It’s an understatement to say that our lives changed that day. We hung flags and pledged we would never forget. Part of that pledge is helping others understand exactly what we’re fighting for and what we lost the moment that first plane struck the North Tower.
Did you know that it took less than 2½ hours from the time the first of the soon-to-be-hijacked planes took off until the North Tower fell? That time line includes the crash of all four airplanes, the shutdown of all domestic flights in the U.S., the fall of both towers and the collapse of a portion of the Pentagon.
Did you know that of the 2,606 people killed in the twin towers and on the grounds of the WTC, families had nothing to bury for 1,100 of them? No remains were found for nearly half of those lost.
To put things into perspective for a moment, imagine this scenario: You, your husband and your two young daughters are leaving the U.S. for two months. You have gotten a prestigious appointment at a university in Australia, and the entire family is coming along to experience the Land Down Under.
It is a beautiful Tuesday morning, the sun is shining, the sky is crystal blue and the air is crisp. Everything seems right with the world as you set off on your expedition.
Your flight is running about 10 minutes late. You speak to your mom as you’re about to board. She tells you to have a wonderful ad-venture. You turn off your cell phone for flight.
Your plane finally takes off, and, soon after, hijackers use box cut-ters and knifes to take control of the plane, herding passengers and crew to the back. You may think about your loved ones, but you don’t make any calls. You’re too concerned with soothing the fears of your daughters.
This is the story of the Falkenberg family. Leslie A. Whittington and Charles S. Falkenberg, both 45, had been married since 1984. Their daughters were Zoe, 8, and Dana, 3. It was Leslie, an economist and associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University, who secured a short appointment as a visiting fellow at Australian National University at Canberra.
They died when their airplane, American Airlines Flight 77 from Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles, hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. They were among the 58 passengers, four flight attendants and two pilots who died on that ill-fated flight.
No remains were ever found for little Dana, one of the youngest victims of 9/11.
Her name is placed on a grave marker in Arlington National Cemetery where the cremated ashes of all remains not linked to a particular victim are buried. Other remains, which were identified, were included in this grave at the families’ request.
Remains of the five hijackers on the flight were separated from those of the victims before burial.
Dana and Zoe weren’t the only children on that flight. Bernard Curtis Brown II, Asia S. Cottom and Rodney Dickens, all age 11, were accompanied by their teachers — Hilda Taylor, 62, Sarah Clark, 65, and James Daniel Debeuneure, 58, respectively — en route to a four-day National Geographic trip to California. All three of those teachers held Master’s degrees and were veteran teachers in their school systems.
Bernard Curtis Brown II
Asia S. Cottom
A total of eight children under the age of 11 died on Sept. 11, 2001. The only children to die as a result of the attacks were on hijacked flights. The remaining three were on United Airlines Flight 175, which hit the South Tower.
Students as old as high school seniors have no frame of reference for what happened on that black Tuesday. They were too young to understand when it happened and may only now be curious about it because of media coverage of the 10th anniversary.
To quote a story I read earlier this week, “First and foremost, parents struggle with how and when to explain the disaster, especially to younger kids. For many children born after 2001, Sept. 11 is simply part of the wallpaper of their generation … but other kids, especially those old enough to remember the attacks, are more conscious of it. And their response to it can change over time.”
Children get older and rethink certain events with a new understanding.
Take some time this weekend to honor those lost 10 years ago and gently explain what happened on that bleak day to someone too young to remember.
We promised we would never forget.
To learn more about the Falkenberg family or any of the children lost, click their pictures.