FRANKFORT – This coming Sunday morning, while church is just getting underway in our half of the country, many of us will take a moment to think and pray about a tragedy that occurred 15 years ago.
Those of us old enough to remember September 11, 2001, will never forget where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news. It immediately joined several other moments in history where everyone had a story to tell, events such as the attack on Pearl Harbor and President Kennedy’s assassination.
Although New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., were the hardest-hit regions in our country, no state was unaffected.
For Kentucky, a victim in the plane that struck one of the Twin Towers had lived here for a time, and a victim at the Pentagon was a Rowan County native.
One of the passengers on the plane striking that building, meanwhile, was the son-in-law of someone who had worked for the General Assembly.
There is another Kentucky connection to that day. The flag in the now-iconic photo featuring several firefighters raising it at Ground Zero originally came from here. It had been taken from a boat that, until the late 1990s, had belonged to a business developer here in the state who had bought the flag from a Barren County salesman.
Many may not know that Ground Zero is just a short walk away from where President Washington was first sworn into office and where the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights were introduced.
The date itself has two other key historical connections. On Sept. 11, 1609, the explorer Henry Hudson first sailed his ship by Manhattan, and in 1941, construction on the Pentagon began that day.
Although we are both angry and sad as we think about the events that happened 15 years ago, we are also proud of the heroism we saw take place that day, from the first responders who lost their lives trying to help to those passengers on the plane over Pennsylvania who fought back and kept it from targeting another site in Washington. Who can forget the phrase “Let’s roll”?
That commitment to the greater good continues today through the actions of hundreds of thousands of men and women who have put their lives on the line for us, from those serving our country to those who keep us safe here at home.
The General Assembly has worked over the years to honor all of their contributions and legacy, and added to it this year by including emergency medical workers among the groups eligible for a lump-sum benefit from the state if they are killed in the line of duty. A separate law will make it possible for firefighters’ families to claim this benefit if the firefighter dies from certain types of cancer linked to their profession. Five years ago, meanwhile, the General Assembly declared that Sept. 11th would always be known as “9/11 First Responders Day.” On a personal note, I want to thank all of those who protect us day-in and day-out. What you do is certainly appreciated and never taken for granted.
A lot has changed since that Tuesday morning in 2001, but the important things have not. We may have our differences from time to time, but at our core, we are still Americans and we are still willing to defend the values that bind us. No event will ever change that.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.