Many times it has been said that Americans are standing on the shoulders of giants. And when this is said, it is meant that Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Madison, and the other Founding Fathers were giants that lifted us up to be a great nation. And this is true. But there are other giants whom we are standing upon.
Every generation of Americans has seen its giants, each one standing on the shoulders of those who came before, and who stood tall to make us a greater nation than we were a generation ago. From Lincoln to Martin Luther King, from those who charged up Mt. Suribachi to plant the Stars and Stripes atop Iwo Jima to those who charged up the stairwells of the burning World Trade Center towers, each generation has had their giants. Each generation has stood atop the shoulders of the giants before them, to raise this great nation ever higher.
And on September 11, 2001, there were scores of giants. First to mind are the first responders who risked — and in some cases gave — their lives to save others. Also, the heroes on United 93 who decided to fight back. But on that day and on the days that followed, other giants emerged. There were the people from around the nation who dropped everything and drove to New York City to help at Ground Zero. There were those who went straight to their closest military recruiter’s office and volunteered to go and serve, to go get those responsible for the devastation of that day, and to make sure it never happened again. And there were those who simply chose to take that day as a wake-up call and decided to change their life for the better.
But what have we done since then? Are we standing on the shoulders of the giants of 9/11, or are we standing in their shadows? Are we raising this country up to new heights or splitting it into pieces which are falling to the ground? Are we being the giants of our generation so that our children and theirs can stand upon our shoulders?
We are a country that built the Empire State Building in just 410 days in the middle of the Great Depression. We are a country that built each World Trade Center tower in just two and a half years. We are a country where we took only 8 years to go from JFK’s speech to landing on the moon. We are a country where four years after being attacked at Pearl Harbor, we destroyed our enemies on two global fronts, then came home to take our nation to new heights. Yet it’s been ten years since America-hating terrorists took down our World Trade Center towers and there is still a gaping hole at Ground Zero.
As we sit in the shadows of giants and squabble, they stand as giants to their people and laugh at us. Osama bin Laden is dead, al Quaeda is weakened, and the Taliban is scattered, but they are still winning. Every day that goes by that we are divided, they are winning.
So today, as we lower our flags to half-mast, as we lay wreaths and go to church and say prayers for those who we have loved and lost on that tragic day and in the global war on terror that followed, let us also vow to stop standing in the shadows of giants. Let us endeavor to take the long climb back up, and to stand upon the shoulders of the giants of 9/11 so that we may once again lift this nation to new heights, and be the giants for the next generation to stand upon.