They would be twenty years old this year if they hadn’t been on board American Airlines Flight 77. Bernard Brown, Asia Cottom, and Rodney Dickens were elementary school students headed to Santa Barbara, California, accompanied by a few teachers on an educational trip sponsored by National Geographic. Their plane was hijacked by terrorists and slammed into the Pentagon. The children’s last moments, all hell and terror combined, were not even spent in the comfort of their own parents’ arms.
Just think about that for a moment. And remember that 184 people, including those children, were killed in the attack against the Pentagon. Most people forget the youngest victims of that day, yet when we turn on our televisions every year around September 11th, it’s all about the Twin Towers and the heroic attempts of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93.
Is it because Washington should expect to be a target? Is it because the Pentagon is filled with military personnel and this is the kind of violent assault they should have all been trained to confront? Should there have been a more dramatic rescue attempt, a better visual recording of the plane’s brutal collision with the west wing, more innocent civilians killed? What could possibly justify overlooking the men, women, and children who died that day along with thousands more from New York and Pennsylvania?
During the 7 years I lived in the DC suburbs, I never developed a healthy relationship with the area. On the morning of my move to Florida, I was awake at 4am and had my parent’s car packed by 5. I couldn’t get out of town quickly enough. That was on June 7, 1996. I counted on that day to arrive for nearly 2 years.
Five years later on September 11th, 2001, I wanted nothing more than to go back to my city because those were my people. There was nothing I could have possibly done to prevent further disaster or to help others absorb the shock of it all. But during times of tragedy, people tend to gather with those who know and we find that we surround ourselves with others who can and will hold us up when we begin to sway and stumble. I was several hundred miles away from my center, my city, and the only thing I could do was watch the television all day.
I don’t want to do that this weekend.
I know these next few days will be filled with images of office workers leaping from the windows of the 98th floor and collapsing towers, of gigantic holes in the Pennsylvania countryside and New Yorkers running for their lives, but please don’t forget the Pentagon and the Americans who lost their lives in our nation’s capital.
They are all worthy of remembrance.