September 11, 2001 is about more than terrorism — it’s about freedom. It’s about someone trying to take our freedom away from us and replace it with fear and terror. It’s nothing new. This struggle for freedom did not start fifteen years ago. It has been going on around the world for centuries.
September 11, 1297. You have probably heard of the Scotsman William Wallace. Wallace’s story was made famous by Mel Gibson in his film “Braveheart.” If you saw the movie, you remember the images of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. British arrows flew through the sky, filling the air. British horses charged Wallace’s men only to run into huge, long, wooden spears. The Scots held firm and defeated the British on that day. That battle actually occurred on September 11. Remember also, William Wallace’s battle cry. His last spoken word in the film was when Wallace shouted – Freedom!
September 11, 1777. Newly formed American forces were fighting for their freedom and liberty in the Revolutionary War. On that September 11, they were forced to retreat at the Battle of Brandywine. Later, they came back to win the war, and to win our freedom. At the Battle of Brandywine, on that September 11, the American Flag, our own beloved Stars and Stripes, was carried into battle for the very first time.
September 11, 1941. 75 years ago, in Arlington, Virginia, ground was broken for a new building – The Pentagon. The same building from which our military forces have been commanded around the globe in the defense of our freedom. It is the same building that would be attacked by terrorists exactly 60 years later.
September 11, 1991. Then Soviet President Gorbachev announced that thousands of Soviet troops would be permanently pulled out of Cuba. The Cold War was over. America won the Cold War. Within a short time, the Soviet Union, our greatest enemy, would be split-up. The Soviet Union was gone.
September 11, 1997. Scotland voted to create its own Parliament. Seven-hundred years, to the day, after William Wallace encouraged his warriors with shouts of freedom, Scotland officially ended British rule over their country. They were finally free. They had finally earned the freedom that Wallace and his men had died for.
Fifteen years ago, this past Sunday, a handful of terrorists tried to do what governments and armies could not do. They tried to take our freedom, and replace it with terror and fear. This time the price of freedom was not paid by soldiers or sailors. This time the price of freedom was paid by firefighters, emergency medical technicians and police officers. The defending warriors in this attack were not equipped to do battle with an armed enemy. No. They carried fire hoses and first-in bags. They were there to rescue; to save lives – not to kill.
But, just as surely as heroes died in the defense of freedom in Scotland; just as surely as heroes died carrying the Stars and Stripes at the Battle of Brandywine, and just as surely as our brave men and women have died defending our freedom during the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and all of the other conflicts, wars and battles fought by this country, so too, did the men and women who died in the attack on the World Trade Center die as heroes.
So too, did the men and women who died in the attack on the Pentagon die as heroes. And, so too, did the passengers of United Flight 93 who – rather than sitting by and watching their plane used as a weapon of war – they pulled themselves together and they attacked the terrorists. With a simple cry of, “Let’s Roll,” they started our battle against terrorism. They too, died as heroes.
Operation Enduring Freedom is the name President Bush gave to the war on terrorism. The first casualties of that war were firefighters, emergency medical technicians, police officers and everyday citizens; citizens who thought they were just going to another day at work.
We have shown the world that we will not give up our freedom, and we will not rest as long as our brothers and sisters are on the battlefields of war – regardless of where the battlefield is located. Because, as long as we are Americans, we will continue to fight for our freedom. Our freedom will endure.
As long as we are Americans, we will not allow terrorists to frighten us into inaction. We will not stay in our homes – afraid to travel. We will not cower in fear in the face of terror. We will fight for our freedom. Just as surely as William Wallace, George Washington, and soldiers and sailors and marines have fought battles in defense of freedom – so too, now, will police officers, firefighters, EMTs and everyday citizens, fight for freedom from terror.
That is what September 11 means.
It means we will never, ever give up. We will never forget those who died, and, in honor of them and their great sacrifice, we more firmly resolve that we will never, never, ever give up our freedom.
Next week: The Story of Victim #0001.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.