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Editor’s note: The fol­lowing is a tran­script of Dr. Jen­nings’ remarks delivered at Hillsdale College’s 9/11 memorial service.

Tuesday, Sep­tember 11, 2001, was just another workaday morning.

On the East Coast, it was an espe­cially beau­tiful, bright and sunny day.

But it became — sud­denly, unex­pectedly — the darkest day of our gen­er­ation.

At 8:46: AA Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the WTC.

I was in CA getting ready for work.

I turned the TV on and saw the pic­tures of the tower burning.

I thought it must be some kind of freak accident.

At 9:03: The second plane — UA Flight 175 — hit the South Tower.

Now this was no freak accident. It was delib­erate.

But no one knew yet what was hap­pening.

At 9:37:  AA Flight 77 crashed into the Pen­tagon.

Three com­mercial air­lines, three sep­arate targets, all within 1 hour.

It was clear now that we were being attacked.

For the first time since Pearl Harbor, the American homeland — our beloved land of liberty — was under attack.

At 9:59: We watched in horror as the South Tower col­lapsed—

How many thou­sands of people were trapped inside?

At 10:28: The North Tower came down — God have mercy. 

In between the towers col­lapsing, the news reported a fourth hijacked plane— UA Flight 93 — heading toward the Capital.

Good Lord, somebody has got to stop it.

Then, mer­ci­fully, it was reported that it crashed in a field some­where in Penn­syl­vania — just 20 minutes flying time from the Capital.

Later we learned that the pas­sengers had found out what was hap­pening and they decided to fight back.

They took the plane down and sent the ter­rorist hijackers to their maker in Hell.

It was a small victory in a day marked by tragedy and defeat.

Those of us who lived through that day have our mem­ories:

Those two mag­nif­icent towers aflame amidst that blue skyline;

The fire fighters — with all their gear — wading sto­ically into those burning buildings as a flood of des­perate people surged out;

Theirs was a heroic but alas, futile effort to hold back the dis­aster.

And the horror of watching those enormous towers col­lapse on them­selves in a great, thun­derous, bil­lowing cloud of dust/debris;

And the panic on the streets of NYC as people — covered from head-to-toe in that blood-stained dust — fled for their lives.

But the image seared most into my memory — that still haunts me:

Watching live on TV two of my fellow Amer­icans — a man and woman — standing on a narrow ledge on one of those towers, 100 floors up.

They joined hands in a final act of humanity and jumped to their death — a better death than to be burned alive in that tow­ering inferno.

They were probably just work acquain­tances, maybe not even that, but they are joined forever in our memory.

It’s esti­mated that 200 people jumped to their death that day.

Most jumped alone and died alone — denied any last embrace with loved ones.

One woman, in a final act of modesty, appeared to be holding down her skirt as she fell.

Others tried to make para­chutes out of cur­tains or table­cloths, only to have them wrenched from their grip by the force of their descent.

The fall was said to take about ten seconds; ter­minal velocity was reached at around 125 mph in most cases.

When the pavement struck, their bodies were not so much broken as oblit­erated.

Nothing more graph­i­cally cap­tures the terror of that day than the grainy pic­tures of those poor souls frozen in mid-air as they fell to their deaths. 

I had known real hatred once before — in my first combat when wit­nessed the utter bru­tality that man can inflict on man. I felt that same hatred then.

17 years have passed since that day; a new gen­er­ation has come of age.

They are today’s college stu­dents.

They have no real memory of 9/11, nor any emo­tional con­nection to it.

We have a solemn duty to those 2977 lost souls to remember them;

But a memorial is no longer enough.

We who lived it, must now teach it to those who didn’t live it.

We must teach them the lessons of 9/11.

What are the lessons? They are legion. I offer one — a hard one.

It did not occur to me until ten years after 9/11 — in 2011, soon after my return from Afghanistan and my third combat deployment.

I was attending a neigh­borhood 4th of July BBQ.

I was sharing “war stories” with a friend and Marine Vietnam Veteran.

Lis­tening quietly was Patrick — a pros­pering thirty-some­thing cor­porate salesman for a Silicon Valley tech firm.

As our dis­cussion ended, Patrick gra­tu­itously offered that, although he didn’t serve, he had “great respect for those who did.”

As I looked at Patrick, it occurred to me that he must have been college-age about the time of 9/11.

Indeed, he said he grad­uated college in May of 2001.

My curiosity piqued, I asked why he did not serve.

He said, rather non­cha­lantly: “It never occurred to me.”

It never occurred to him.

Though his country was sud­denly and mali­ciously attacked;

Though 2,977 of his fellow cit­izens were mur­dered in that attack;

Though his country engaged in two long wars in response to that attack;

And though he was the priv­i­leged ben­e­fi­ciary of the “ines­timable blessings” of liberty in this country;

The fact that as a young mil­itary aged man, he might have a duty — let alone a patriotic desire — to serve his country in its dark hour of peril,

Did not occur to Patrick.

This is the hard lesson of 9/11.

9/11 was a cat­a­strophic event in American history — our generation’s Pearl Harbor.

Yet, unlike after Pearl Harbor, American mil­itary-aged cit­izens did not vol­unteer en masse to serve their country.

On the con­trary, those few that did vol­unteer amounted to less than 1% of our pop­u­lation — the so-called “other 1%”.

This is a dis­con­certing fact of our gen­er­ation in this post-9/11 era.

From the beginning, our fragile exper­iment in repub­lican self-gov­ernment has depended on patriotic and civic-minded cit­izens who vol­un­tarily accept the duties of cit­i­zenship and public service for the common good.

Mil­itary service is an essential duty of that cit­i­zenship.

From the “Minute Men” of the Rev­o­lution, to the vol­unteer reg­i­ments of the Civil War, to the “Doughboys” and “GIs” of the world wars, American cit­izens have a long and patriotic tra­dition of mil­itary service. 

Today, it seems that that patriotic ethic, if not lost, has shriveled and atro­phied.

Indeed, recent events have made it painfully clear that we live in a country:

Where mil­itary service is no longer respected — even loathed;

Where there are few willing to teach us that respect for the flag and selfless service to the nation is not only good and hon­orable, but expected as a duty of cit­i­zenship;

Where the pre­vailing ethic taught, even at most col­leges, is:

On the one hand, nar­rowly eco­nomic—training for a job and a suc­cessful career with little concern for the common good;

Or, on the other hand, socially sub­versive—under­mining intel­ligent piety for our American her­itage, our Con­sti­tution, and the ines­timable blessings of liberty.

I won’t belabor this sad point which is evident to most of us here.

But the potential con­se­quences of this patriotic apathy and indif­ference for our national security are serious.

Our most senior mil­itary officers see it as a strategic vul­ner­a­bility.

Our history and pol­itics pro­fessors might see it as an exis­tential threat to the future of our republic. History teaches such.  

This is the hard lesson of 9/11.

I con­clude with this final thought.

It is fitting that we gather here today at our Civil War Sol­diers’ Mon­ument.

The Civil War was a defining moment in the life of our college.

It revealed, tested and crys­talized the patriotic fighting spirit

That has ever since defined who we are and what we stand for.

The “9/11” of the Civil War occurred on April 12, 1861 with the rebel attack on Fort Sumter.

In response to that sedi­tious attack, our boys took up the rebel chal­lenge and answered the call to arms.

Indeed, they vol­un­teered en masse: Some 400 wore the Union blue — more than any other college, save the mil­itary acad­emies.

No apathy or indif­ference kept them from their sacred duty to defend liberty and prevent the destruction of our nation and the dis­grace of our flag.

Indeed, so great was the service and sac­rifice of our boys that in 1864, the Detroit Adver­tiser and Tribune declared:

“Probably no college in the country is better rep­re­sented in the Union Army than [Hillsdale]. It has sent its young men to the war by the hun­dreds. They have watered with their blood every bat­tle­field of the Republic…”

All proper col­leges of higher learning pursue truth.

We pursue truth.

But from those Civil War days when we were a young frontier college, we have also been a fighting college — com­mitted to defending liberty.

We are always vig­ilant to defend her;

To guard against any threat to her;

To give the last full measure of devotion to secure her ines­timable blessings from attack.

That is the lesson of our Sol­diers’ Mon­ument.

It is a fitting lesson for us on this day of memorial for the 9/11 attacks.

So, on this 9/11 memorial day, our fighting Soldier boy

—who so proudly stands for the defense of liberty,

—who so defi­antly holds that star spangled battle flag aloft,

Presents us — espe­cially you the new gen­er­ation of Hillsdale College stu­dents — with a chal­lenge:

Para­phrasing Paul in his letter to the Romans:

  • Will we allow our­selves to be con­formed by the cor­ruption — the apathy and indif­ference — of the current gen­er­ation?
  • Or will we allow our­selves to be trans­formed by the renewing of our hearts and minds by the patriotic fighting spirit of our Civil War sons and brothers?

And in this renewal of our hearts and minds,

  • Will we follow their example and defi­antly, proudly, cheer­fully recommit our­selves to the defense of liberty on behalf of our republic?
  • Or will we prove our­selves unworthy of our her­itage and let it die as a silent memorial to times past?

This is the chal­lenge we face in this post-9/11 era: How will we respond?

I pray, let us find the strength to rejoice in the chal­lenge.

May God bless our fellow Amer­icans killed on 9/11.

May God bless the first responders who saved so many that day.

May God bless those who wear the Union blue of our armed forces.

May God bless those who defend liberty.

And may God bless America.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    The true lesson of 9/11 is that the world is com­posed of hun­dreds of nations, many of which do not share western values. In this time in the history of our nation when many ‘elites’ promote the concept that all values are equal, it came as quite a shock to many that there are people who hate us and wish us harm.

    Mil­itant Islam hates the west. Con­trary to what Barack Obama sug­gested, it has nothing to do with what we’ve done or not done to them-it has every­thing to do with what we stand for. Mil­itant Islam hates the Freedoms we hold dear and it always has-back to the time of the Barbary Pirates.

    If there is one thing Pres­ident Trump has done of greatest value, it’s to push immi­gration stan­dards so we’re allowing in the best and the brightest and less eco­nomic des­titute and ‘refugees from violent regions’-the latter of which was used to bring in many folks from nations who do not share western values. It’s revealing that today’s Democrat Party has fought him every inch of the way on this.

  • Roberta Jen­nings

    I’m pretty sure the byline here is sup­posed to be PETER Jen­nings.