A tangible connection to that horrific day in 2001 is the Last Column, a 36-foot-tall relic from the ashes, standing as a monument to the devastating losses of family and friends. The column has been turned into an art form bearing pictures, messages and other physical ties to loved ones. Three sets of orange initials stand out: PAPD 37, NYPD 23 and FDNY 343 — memorializing the courageous officers of the Port Authority of New York Police Department, the New York Police Department and the Fire Department of New York who died in saving others.
What happened when the unimaginable struck America is symbolized in that column. A survivor of the holocaust, Mickey Cross, retired lieutenant of the Fire Department of New York, put it in a few simple words: “There was a real sense of caring for each other.” That’s the theme of story after story of men and women who risked their lives to help others on 9/11.
Even out of evil, good came, and it came in unexpected ways. A New York school principal, Ada Dolch, lost her sister, Wendy Wakeford, in the destruction of that day. She told the people at the museum dedication Tuesday how she responded — by opening a school for children in Afghanistan as a way of combating what she saw as the ignorance behind the terrorist attacks.
There was another theme that day and for a long time afterward. It was: “We’re all Americans. We love our country. We stand together. We set aside our differences.” Remember those days when patriotic feelings swept the country? Remember how our flag flew from almost every vehicle? Remember the sense of camaraderie, of being one people, willing to stand against our enemies?
Remember how about 150 members of Congress, having evacuated the Capitol earlier because of security concerns, gathered on the steps of the East Front to show their solidarity that day? It’s a picture engraved in my mind: Democrats and Republicans standing next to each other, obviously with no thought of partisan differences. House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois said: “When America suffers, and when people perpetrate acts against this country, we as a Congress and a government stand united and we stand together to fight this evil threat.”
There was a moment of silence. Then those members of Congress started singing “God Bless America.” That image went around the world, a powerful message of unity and patriotism. Now look at us. Partisan divisions in Washington have never been worse. There’s plenty of blame to spread around, but let’s start at the top. If political good will is to regain a footing in this country, the president needs to set the example in word and deed. Period.