It was such a beautiful morning. Crisp and clear. Full of the promise of autumn.
Some 2,891 stock brokers and waitresses, businessmen and women, soldiers and airmen heading for their jobs or boarding planes had no idea that it would be their last.
Most of us can remember the details like it was yesterday:
The heart-stopping fireball as a second plane struck the World Trade Center.
A giant American flag unfurled over the blackened face of the Pentagon.
The grim resolve of the passengers on Flight 93 embodied in Todd Beamer’s words from the grave: “Let’s roll.”
The mind-numbing horror of the attacks — their scope and their toll — were almost too much to bear. It was a day that was supposed to change everything.
At least that’s what we thought.
Yet if the dawn on Sept. 11, 2001 gave no hint of the horrors ahead, the evening of Sept. 11, 2001 gave no hint of the road ahead.
Some things changed dramatically. We have fought two wars at a cost of more than 6,200 Americans killed and 45,000 wounded.
We have spent more than $2 trillion on those wars abroad and security at home.
We have seen the nation more divided over any war since Vietnam.
But looking back over the past decade, perhaps the real problem turned out to be how little changed.
The flags along the highways soon faded as Washington sank back into bitter partisan fighting. Our nation had been more unified than at any time since World War II. Today, we are more deeply divided than at any time in the past century.
Americans honor our troops, yet many people seem barely able to remember that we are at war.
And terrorism itself has hit rock bottom as a national priority. In a Pew Center poll taken last October, just 3 percent of Americans said security was one of their biggest worries — and that was before the killing of Osama bin Laden.
As you will hear from the men and women in this special report, terrorism may no longer be personified by a bearded man in an Afghan cave, but terrorism is very much with us.
Today, it wears the face of a U.S. Army major or a teenager in a British suburb who proclaims himself a militant Islamist. It wears the face of a loner in an Arizona parking lot whose anti-government scribblings could have been written by Timothy McVeigh.
It wears the face of a blond Norwegian who massacres women and children to strike a blow at radical Islam. Terrorism in the name of hating terrorism.
So today, we pause to remember the victims of 9-11. To honor the heroes of two wars. To affirm our humanity in the face of inhumanity.
And to ask this question: Where do we go from here? The Patriot-News ponders that question with stories from our central Pennsylvania neighbors.