Recalling the haunting images of the attacks on September 11, 2001

After twenty-one years, one would think that the haunting images of 9/11 would fade away in the fog of time. If anything, for me and I suspect others, on the anniversary of 9/11 they have grown stronger as our mind continues to process the trauma of an event that occurred over a decade ago. Every day when I walk past the photograph of my Pentagon office, I still see the faces of my former “shipmates” looking back and asking “why me” before they perished in an inferno that no one could survive.

Perhaps it is due to “survivors guilt” that I am not ready yet to fully process their loss; however, in the meantime, there are two other images from that horrific day that continue to haunt me both day and night. These images define the tragedy of innocent lives lost and our national resolve and unity to avenge their senseless loss.

The first is the video of a young woman jumping from the conflagration at the top of the Twin Towers to meet a certain death. During her last moments on earth, she had the presence of mind to hold her skirt down in an act of modesty. A small but symbolic gesture that will ever define her humility and grace under pressure.

The second image is the group of New York City firefighters along with their chaplain who are suiting up and preparing to advance towards the raging inferno in the Twin Towers. They knew that a mass fire on the upper floors would ultimately weaken the structural integrity of the building and it would soon come crashing down and entomb them in the rubble.

One need only look into their eyes to see that they acknowledged they were doomed to die, but yet they knew it was their duty to press on in an attempt to save their fellow man. That day they demonstrated the reality of John 15:13, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Yes, the images of that day will forever define who we are as a nation but for many of us who survived, we are burdened with the guilt that we did not perish.

I, like many veterans, have PTSD, but its associated stigma made me ashamed, and for many years I neglected to seek treatment, thinking I could carry the burden myself. This impacted not only my mental and physical health, but unfortunately those closest to me. PTSD is not a sign of weakness, but rather a defense mechanism to deal with the trauma that is too great to bear.

If this defines you, seek professional help — if not for yourself, but for your loved ones. After all, PTSD is a warrior sickness not a coward sickness. There is no shame in admitting that you  need help — make that your legacy to those who died on 9/11.

Image: Free image, Pixabay License, no attribution required

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