Column – Remembering the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks

Published 5:24 pm Friday, September 8, 2023

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Monday, Sept. 11, marks the 22nd anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Let’s pause for a few minutes to remember the victims and their families. 

We pray, “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the soul of our faithful departed brothers and sisters, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.” 

A Day of Reflection and Remembrance is a fitting and proper way or description to observe the significance of 9/11, which changed the world to be united, together as one big human family longing for peace not war, order not chaos, love not hatred, for one another. It’s a solemn memorial of the U.S. history’s deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil.

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Our young generation needs to know what, why and how it happened on that fateful day, which claimed almost three thousand lives lost (about 2,977 as of this time), thousands injure, and billions of dollars worth of property destroyed. But no amount of money can replace the innocent lives lost.

The facts we learned: 19 men hijacked four planes, three of which were used to strike significant U.S. sites. American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines flight 175 were flown into the World Trade Center’s north and south towers, respectively, and American Airlines flight 77 hit the Pentagon. The fourth aircraft, United Airlines flight 93, crashed into an open field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. The 19 hijackers were affiliated with Islamist terrorist organization al-Qaeda, 15 of them from Saudi Arabia, two from United Arab Emirates, and one from Egypt and one from Lebanon. 

On that Tuesday morning in 2001, I was in the personnel lounge room, busy working on our radiology department’s training files or records (both military and civilian personnel) at the First and Finest Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth.

Retired U.S. Navy Chief Thomas came into the lounge room and hurriedly turned on the TV. There it was: the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers under attack by a plane on one side and another on the other side of the tower, like watching a live filming of a movie. But it was the actual happening of such terrible attacks. 

The room, eventually, was full of our staff-personnel. All you could hear was “O my God, Noooo!” I prayed silently. Somebody in the room switched the channel to another TV station for another perspective. After about 30 minutes passed, our personnel slowly faded, with misty eyes. I was left alone in the lounge room, sad, upset, confused, puzzled, perplexed, perturbed. I kept asking myself Why? Why did it happen? I didn’t have any answer to my question at that time. 

 As a Catholic, I was humbled to know later that among the first responders to the site was a beloved American Franciscan friar and Catholic priest who served as a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. His name was Father Mychal Judge, O.F.M. (Latin for “Ordo Fratrum Minorum,” or Orders of Friar Minor). 

Father Mychal refused to move to safety saying that he needed to be with his men. He entered the tower and remained in the lobby, praying for firefighters, who rushed past him and up the stairs and for office workers plunging to their deaths outside. He was killed by falling debris, after administering the last rites to a dying firefighter. He became the first certified fatality of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

Father Mychal was hailed as an American hero. Many have considered him a living saint, because of his extraordinary works of charity and deep spirituality even before his death. The Orthodox-Catholic of America declared him a saint on July 27, 2002. However, there wasn’t any official message from the Vatican City, the Archdiocese of New York and the Franciscan Third Order regarding his canonization process.

What did I learn from 9/11? Life is precious; it’s the only important gift we have from our Creator. Live life faithfully and lawfully, and use it to help humanity’s pressing problems and concerns. Live in the present moment well. Without any reservation, do your best to serve and help others. Pray, give thanks always, and offer your pains and problems to Jesus, our Lord, God and Savior. Be generous and kind. Share what you have — talents, time, and treasure — to others. Pray, hope, don’t worry. 

The 9/11 Memorial and Museum reminds us of that day. It’s located at the site of the former World Trade Center complex and occupies approximately half of the 16-acre site. The memorial’s twin reflecting pools are each nearly an acre in size and feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.

Seven stories below the Memorial is the Museum which contains artifacts, first-person accounts, and multimedia displays and exhibitions about the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. Names of the victims were inscribed on the Memorial’s bronze parapets.

For the families of all victims of 9/11, we hope and pray for a peaceful closure, new possibilities in life. May God bless the U.S. always. 

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk and Chesapeake. Email him at