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liberalfirstlongoriginal
Thursday
September 19th, 2019

one world trade centerThe new Freedom Tower stands in New York City on the same location where the World Trade Centers stood prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The new building stands as a defiant reminder that the United States will never allow terrorist attacks remove the civil liberties enjoyed by the American people. Courtesy photoEARL WATT • Leader & Times

 

“A plane just crashed in to the World Trade Center.”

That’s what my wife Heather called to tell me on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

I went to the newsroom and turned on the television to see smoke billowing from one of the towers while reporters were trying to find out why an aircraft would have been so far off course.

And then I saw another plane coming in to view on the screen, and it looked like it was flying too close to the buildings. And then a fireball and more smoke.

This was no accident.

The day became a blur as another plane hit the Pentagon and another went down in Pennsylvania.

President George W. Bush was reading to some schoolchildren in Sarasota, Fla., when he was told of the terrorist attacks, and planes across the country were ordered out of the sky.

Our entire newspaper plan was scrapped, and we started to contact our first responders to see what was happening in Liberal and the surrounding area.

Hazmat suits were issued, and Liberal’s airport prepared to receive planes that were being grounded.

It wasn’t until the next morning when Managing Editor Janice Northerns came in to my office to discuss the past 24 hours. Normally a rock, she burst out in tears with the question many Americans were asking. “What is happening?”

We were still sorting that out in the aftermath of the treachery that had come to our shore.

Later the day after, I stood in the alley behind the newspaper with Joe Lansden, the owner of the Beaver newspaper we printed. 

“Look up,” Joe said. “Not a vapor trail in the sky.”

He was right.

We aren’t called flyover country for nothing, and it is virtually impossible to see the vastness of the Kansas sky without at least one vapor trail drifting among the clouds. It was blank and empty, and it wasn’t right.

Planes quickly returned to flight, the twisted wreckage of the Twin Towers was slowly removed, funerals were held, and America entered an 18-year war in Afghanistan to make sure there would never be another 9/11. A new building replaced the old, and it was called the Freedom Tower.

Since that time, we have had two more presidents, Congress has switched control from one party to the next and back, and America has avoided a second major terrorist attack.

New security measures were implemented, but overall, America is still the same nation it was prior to the attacks.

While the United States may be experiencing a crisis at the southern border from the number of migrants seeking to enter the country, it is a sign that opportunity in America is still drawing newcomers seeking freedom and the American Dream.

While the attack did not bring an end to the American way of life, it did claim the lives of 265 passengers on four planes, 2,606 in the World Trade Center and 125 at the Pentagon.

America has not forgotten the attack or the innocent victims of Islamic extremism, and schools in Liberal will continue to honor Sept. 11 on Patriot Day with children who weren’t even born when the attacks occurred. But they will know why they celebrate patriotism.

It’ a strength of America to recognize not only the days when we had great victories, but days when we were challenged.

Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001, are remembered just as much as July 4, 1776.

Freedom doesn’t survive only when victories are won. Freedom survives when it faces challenges and does not give way to fear. Freedom has always been worth more than guaranteed security.

Ronald Reagan once shared in his “Rendezvous with destiny” speech that peace is easy to achieve. One need only surrender.

 And Benjamin Franklin said, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”

Americans value freedom, and despite the terrorist attacks that came to our shore 18 years ago, we have continued to respond by living the lives of free people.

We will be hated for allowing women to attend schools, to make their own choices and to vote. We may be hated for a society that allows diverse religious views and even diverse lifestyles.

We Americans don’t agree with each other on a great many things, but those disagreements are what make us free.

We don’t have to agree or live a life conformed to the size of our beard.

We have great debates in this country, some very fierce. But those debates can only be found in a free nation like ours. 

The nations that want to destroy us don’t have protests marches. They don’t allow dissent.

Those actions define America.

We continue to be the nation of hope, where a person can forge his own destiny without fear of religious persecution.

We still have improvements to make, but we know we will continue to make them because of the love of freedom that has continued to grow for more than 243 years.

While we may soon be leaving Afghanistan, and while we will never be able to fully eradicate every risk, we have proven these attacks will not steal our freedom.

And one day, we will once again face tragedy. Hate never quits. But Richard Nixon told his staff as he resigned the presidency that there is only one path to defeat, and it happens within yourself.

“For those who choose to stay, there will be those who hate you,” Nixon said. “But those who hate you can’t win unless you hate them. And then, you destroy yourself.”

Let us vow to be the light of freedom for those oppressed across the globe and set the example for others to rise up against the tyranny in their homeland, to remove the injustices that crush freedom.

In Hong Kong today, protestors are waving flags, but they aren’t Chinese flags. They are waving the American flag. They are singing the American national anthem.

We have remained true to the American way of life, and no matter who attacks us, we will continue to respond with strength and conviction for all yearning to breathe free.

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