Twenty years ago, on a beautiful, crisp Tuesday morning, the kids were in school, my bags were packed and there were a few more hours to go until I would catch one of a series of flights that would eventually take me to work on a drill ship off the coast of Nigeria. Suddenly a call came in from my mother, frantically telling me to turn on the TV. I still remember every detail, like it happened yesterday, since that’s when my world changed.

If you’re old enough to remember the events of that day, almost 7,300 yesterdays ago, yours did, too.

The snapshots and videos in my mind of Sept. 11, 2001, will probably live with me forever.

There was 8-year-old Cierra, the only girl on the youth football team I was coaching. Before practice the following day, I asked the kids if there was anything they wanted to say. She raised her hand and, in her wide-eyed innocence with her sing-songy voice, informed me that her teacher kept “suddenly crying all day long.”

Think you’re tough? You try composing yourself after that.

There was that Friday night football game between cross-town rival high schools. Players from both teams charged onto the field – but this time, waving American flags while parents and fans stood and cheered and fractured hearts pounded with pride and patriotism.

That night, it was more than just a game.

A week later, having arrived at work, I spoke to Robert from Texas, a tough, hard-living, hard-drinking driller who had given up the rodeo circuit years before. His wife sounded like she was cut from the same cloth. I’ll never forget him squinting at me, remarking quizzically in his thick East Texas drawl, “Ma wife’s a tough ol’ gal, but ever’ time Ah call her, she jest cain’t stop cryan’!” He’d never seen her this way and couldn’t make any sense of it.

I remember a Canadian shipmate making the specific point of expressing sympathy toward myself and my countrymen while I, averting my eyes, barely able to respond, managed to squeak out a hoarse, “Thank you.”

And then came the stories. Ordinary people performing uncommon acts of bravery. People helping people, performing acts of charity and kindness toward one another while we all struggled with simultaneous feelings of rage, shock and heartbreak, not only for the victims and their families but also for the uncertain future our kids were sure to inherit. We shared in our collective grief. We took stock of our lives and what’s truly important. Some of us, choosing to turn from wickedness and toward righteousness, searched out our faith in a loving and merciful God.

Every year since 2001, on each anniversary of Sept. 11, conversations still recollect where and what we were doing when we learned or bore witness to what was happening. In a world that has changed so much since that day, it’s hard to believe those conversations ever will.

“Never forget” was the intonation that many embraced, but apparently not enough. Instead, we find ourselves living through a tragic nightmare of unimaginable incompetence. This president withdraws troops from an embattled country, leaving behind tens of billions of dollars in armament and equipment to the enemy. As if that isn’t bad enough, it gets worse. This botched effort unbelievably includes Americans and allies who are likely to be hunted down and kidnapped or slaughtered.

Twenty years later. You cannot make this up.

Meanwhile, the same media that have done so much damage do their best to keep eyes focused elsewhere. What an unmitigated disgrace to our veterans and allies.

By comparison, this Afghanistan debacle makes Barack Obama’s Bowe Bergdahl trade look like the sheer genius behind the 199th draft pick of the 2000 New England Patriots.

Twenty years ago, you and I witnessed the unthinkable. Today, “unthinkable” looks a lot different.

Maybe I’m naive. I just never, for a second thought that 20 years later, this country’s greatest threat would come to be those abusing their positions of power.


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