Damon Friedman: Sept. 11 terrorist attacks can teach us this important lesson today

Americans set aside so many difference Sept. 11 to fight for a common cause. We need to do that again.

If you are of a certain age you remember exactly where you were on Sept. 11, 2001. You also realize that our country is in a much different place today than it was then.

Back in 2001 I was a newly pinned second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, commanding a platoon at Camp Lejeune, N.C. I was so excited to serve my country.

I didn’t realize then that the lessons I learned, particularly about unity and teamwork, would last a lifetime. They seem particularly relevant today, when our country is so divided.

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During boot camp, the drill instructors broke us down and built us back up. It didn’t matter where we came from, what the color of our skin was, or what political party we supported. We were just Marines.

We were one unit, functioning in unison and depending on each other for everything. When we were judged, it was not on how we looked, because at that point we all looked the same. We had the same uniforms and “high and tight” haircuts.

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There’s something special about facing an obstacle, struggling and finding victory together. The ultimate challenge was The Crucible, the final test in training that simulated combat situations by emphasizing teamwork under stress.

It was a 54-hour test of endurance — 48 miles of marching with only two meals and six hours of sleep. We were divided into groups of four and we couldn’t complete all our assigned tasks without working together.

We need to be loving and not hateful, civil and not rude, full of grace and not wrath.

The Crucible was one of the most grueling experiences I’ve ever had. But once it was over — and we received our Marine Corps emblems of an eagle, globe and anchor — I felt a great sense of accomplishment and camaraderie with my team. It’s something I’ll never forget.

A year after graduation the unthinkable happened. We were playing war games when the first aircraft hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. A Marine yelled for us to come over and check out the TV. When we saw the second aircraft crash into the South Tower, we knew that it was no accident. We were under attack.

That day our nation made a decision. We would defend our country against terrorism and we would do it together.

The unity that we felt in 2001 seems almost nonexistent today. We face a common enemy — the coronavirus — just like we did then. But we can’t even agree on how big a threat it poses.

And our racial divisions are even more pronounced. We’re blinded by anger, injustice and hatred. Protests and riots have taken place across the country. Some people seem to think that their voices can be heard only if they vandalize businesses or destroy landmarks.

Groups of people have been demonized, and others have been misled into believing false narratives. People aren’t treating each other with civility, grace, or love.

In times like these, the greatest and most powerful weapon we have is love. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.

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I don’t ever want to experience another terrorist attack. But don’t you wish we could go back to Sept. 12, 2001? The day when flags couldn’t be found in stores. People were Americans before they were Black or White, Christian or Jewish, Republican or Democrat.

On that day we loved each other and served one another. We didn’t care if we ate Chick-fil-A, purchased Goya or wore Nikes. It was all about unity. 

Americans set aside so many difference Sept. 11 to fight for a common cause. We need to do that again.

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We need to be loving and not hateful, civil and not rude, full of grace and not wrath. We have to come together as a unit, just like in the Marines, putting aside differences toward a common goal.

We will win as a team or we will fail as a country.

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