Editorial: America’s darkest day, 12 years later

By on September 13, 2013
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Yesterday marked the 12th anniversary of the darkest day in American history. And as hard as it is to believe that it’s actually been more than a decade since we, as a nation, witnessed the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001, it’s even harder to believe that a group of people was actually capable of carrying out the crimes that took place that day.

That last detail is something that goes through Sugar Grove Township Board member Mike Fagel’s head each and every day.

Fagel was a responder for the Department of Justice at the time of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and he witnessed firsthand the horror and carnage of Ground Zero when he arrived in New York City on Sept. 13, 2001. Fagel looks at 9-11 as a time to remember what happened back then, and that we must remain ever vigilant in the face of these uncertain times, and he believes it’s a must to recall that we are still at war with the unknown terrorist … be they domestic or international.

Fagel had been a member of the North Aurora Illinois Fire Protection District since 1975, working in Emergency Medical Services, Emergency Planning and disaster preparedness. He also served as a reservist with FEMA beginning in 1995, with his first deployment occurring during another terrorist-conceived American tragedy: the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

At 11 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, Fagel’s pager went off to contact, and he was put on standby with travel orders to be forthcoming. He arrived at Ground Zero two days later. As Fagel recalls, “We were in the midst of extreme and utter destruction, the likes of which I have never witnessed before.”

Just about everyone remembers what they were doing that morning upon learning that American Airlines Flight 11 had crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Seventeen minutes later, American Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. The attacks resulted in the deaths of all 137 civilians on the two aircrafts, as well as 2,500 civilians who were in the World Trade Center buildings or near Ground Zero during the plane crashes and subsequent collapse of both towers.

Fagel can picture it: debris piled as high as you could see—the result of collapsed buildings 110 stories tall reduced to piles of twisted steel, cement, billowing smoke. In Fagel’s words, the piles were tombs, final resting places of nearly 3,000 souls that perished in this heinous attack on America, and the free world.

A similar assault on the Pentagon, resulting in the deaths of 179 innocents, as well as the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, resulting in the deaths of 40 innocents, occurred soon after the initial World Trade Center attacks. In the following days, as America mourned and began to clean up the rubble in an attempt to make sense of all of the terrible things that happened on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, one thing was very clear: no one in this country would ever be the same.

“Every day, the emergency service personnel, the military and government workers sworn to protect the citizenry daily, are still fighting the battle on many fronts. We must be right 100 percent of the time, while the bad guys must only be right once,” Fagel said on Monday. “Look at the Boston Marathon bombing, self-radicalization and the things that are happening daily.”

While we continue to keep alive the memory of all those who perished during the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Fagel and those involved in Homeland Security in this country continue to do everything they can to ensure that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, aren’t repeated.

“We must remain vigilant, but not be vigilantes,” he said. “Support your local emergency response planners and staff, help them help you to be prepared and be safer.”

Words to live by as we look back on America’s darkest day, 12 years later.
As Fagel raised the 9-11 flag on his house yesterday morning, he took pause to think of what happened that fateful day 12 years ago.

“A blue sky, a normal day, that would forever change the destiny of many—change the world as we know it,” he said.

Fagel met many people at Ground Zero—many of whom are now deceased or dying of some illness they received from spending many months on the site.

“I was on site for 100 days, and I, too, have some long-term illness that came from my service,” Fagel said. “I would—and will—do it all over again. For the people we serve—for those that come after we are gone—I say, ‘Let’s do our best, and remember those who came before us.”

Words to live by as we look back on America’s darkest day, 12 years later.