Thirteen years ago, our nation was attacked and nearly 3,000 of our loved ones lost their lives. Although their memory and grieving continues to this day, we remember the heroic events that also came to define a day of unspeakable tragedy.

On that now historic day, heroes emerged who willingly gave their lives to save others. Among them were firefighters and police officers. 

The events of September 11, 2001 led to the deadliest incident for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States. 

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On that horrifying day, 343 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty. They died trying to save others. They are forever heroes, remembered and respected by all.

On that day, other heroes also emerged. They were individuals not necessarily trained for the tasks they willingly undertook. They were office workers who chose to aid in the evacuation of fellow co-workers or who chose to stay with their injured colleagues instead of seeking safety for themselves.

They were casual bystanders or even tourists who witnessed the seemingly unexplainable accident of a plane crashing into a building. Rather than run to safety, something inside prompted them to run towards the crash scene to see if they could offer assistance.     

Later we would learn that four airliners had been hijacked with the sole purpose of turning them into weapons of mass destruction. Each had a specific target. Two planes would hit the World Trade Center towers, one would hit the Pentagon and the last airliner was presumed to have the White House as its intended target.

Whatever the target, the intent of those hijackers was foiled by the actions of the passengers. Passengers who recognized something was wrong, and tried to subdue the hijackers. Through their selfless act of courage, the passengers of United Flight 93 emerged as heroes. Their actions prompted the hijackers to intentionally crash the plane in Shanksville, PA, well short of its intended target. I am further reminded of the phrase that invigorated those passengers into becoming one in purpose, to becoming heroes themselves. That phrase was, “Let’s roll!”

On that fateful day, 13 years ago today, the world as we knew it changed. It changed forever. It changed for those who lost loved ones and friends. It caused the people of our nation to rally as one, in a fashion not seen since the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

That fateful day we saw with our own eyes, as did the world, what it means to be an American. What we are willing to do for one another in time of need. 

September 11, 2001 makes us ever mindful of the price of freedom. Today, we are keenly aware there are people in this world who hate us, our way of life and our religious beliefs.

Those who wish us harm need to realize we are a nation not just of people.  We are a nation of heroes.

Brigadier General Francis L. Hendricks (ret.) is president of Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania.