9/11 Should Be a Federal Holiday

NEW YORK (Sept. 11, 2001) Smoke rises from where the World Trade Centers once stood. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto.
NEW YORK (Sept. 11, 2001) Smoke rises from where the World Trade Centers once stood. USCG photo by PA2 Tom Sperduto.

Do you know WHY we don't celebrate 9/11 with a federal holiday? I didn't. Honestly. I consider myself a fairly well-educated, well-informed person, and my husband is a retired police captain. In fact, he was one of those crazy-brave men who were driving into our nation's capital to help when everybody else was being evacuated on September 11th. As a cop wife, I should be better informed about this. After all, I can't personally get anything accomplished on that date.

This year, I goofed and made an appointment for my husband and me in Georgetown on the morning of September 11th. As we sat in slow traffic into DC, we listened to a local news station. I followed @NYPDNews and @FDNY on my phone, watching the Twitter roll call of the police officers and firefighters who died, not only on that horrific day, but also of 9/11-borne illnesses that still plague tens of thousands of first responders because they answered the call of duty that day.

My husband Bill and I were quiet on the drive, both listening carefully as though we knew the names being called. Fortunately, we do not. That's pretty amazing when you consider Bill has friends in many police and fire departments, and years ago I actually worked for the Wall Street Journal in one of the World Financial Center buildings that sustained irreparable damage. Unfortunately, through our friends and our police family, we have found, over the past 14 years, that we have a connection -- within two or three degrees of separation -- with many of the first responders and innocent victims who died that day. And some who are still sick.

Somewhere around Chain Bridge, I started to openly sob. It wasn't long before the moment in history when the plane would hit the Pentagon. Right after that, 14 years ago, I was preparing to hide in my Capitol Hill basement, praying to God that the jets our U.S. military had scrambled to defend us would successfully blast a passenger plane out of the sky. The time clock in the corner of the television screen warning us of when a plane was expected to hit the U.S. Capitol or The White House -- not unlike a football scoreboard -- continued to tick down until I no longer felt safe. What we now know as "United Flight 93" was coming.

I took the dog, bottled water, and a camping radio with working batteries and went underground. It was better than standing in front of the massive picture window in my third floor apartment with a view of the Capitol dome, where I'd just watched black smoke from the Pentagon disrupt the skyline. Nobody knew that plane had already been forced down.

After the first plane hit, I'd called my father, an aviation expert, and he'd said "Sandy, that wasn't an accident." I exchanged a couple of e-mails with a friend at the Wall Street Journal and he didn't know what was going on yet but they were preparing to evacuate if necessary as they posted the news. Then all hell broke loose. Another tower was hit. Then the Pentagon. If you've never read the actual timeline, you should. It's an eye-opener reading it all in one place.

Brave passengers and crew of United Flight 93 saved some of our lives in DC that day when they forced the plane down in Pennsylvania, entirely too close for comfort. They also saved the lives of the unarmed fighter jets' pilots, because those brave souls were going to kamikaze into that airliner. Something we learned much later.

As we crossed into the city this September 11th, I watched a big passenger jet fly across the sky, past the Pentagon, only a few minutes before the memorial moment, and I shivered. Everybody else in the cars around us was affected too. I know because the traffic was slow and we could see each other. And a few cars had American flags sticking out their sun roofs. I guess we don't all still own those flags that clipped onto our windows like we did right after it happened. We don't have the stickers on our cars anymore. In fact, if Congress doesn't get its act together and show some strength and compassion, the more than 60,000 firefighters and police who are sick as a result of their bravery on 9/11 will lose their special health care benefits a year from now.

The current bill that supports their funding has to be addressed this month, or time is up. As if cutting off funding will make their illnesses disappear. They won't, and we cannot forget. We promised we wouldn't. Remember the slogan "Never Forget" -- it means we have an obligation to remember and honor those who sacrificed. And more than just on social media one day a year.

In the House, Democratic U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced H.R.1786 - the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act to extend funding for the first responders and victims of that awful day. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, enacted with the same original legislation, for those who are unable to work due to 9/11-related illnesses, is in trouble too, and not able to meet its obligations to those who registered for it without Congressional intervention.

This, my fellow Americans, is EXACTLY why the United States Congress must make September 11th a federal holiday. We are forgetting. Or at least some of those who are in a position to decide how to responsibly spend our tax dollars have forgotten. Otherwise, how could anyone be fighting harder to give billions to Iran and other foreign nations than to our own American first responders? It just doesn't even make sense. How can our elected officials justify this?

They have forgotten.

New York City has not forgotten. Our military has not forgotten. Police and firefighters and their families have not forgotten. Certainly, anyone who lost a friend or family member in the Twin Towers or at the Pentagon or in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, has not forgotten. That was a "monumental" day in our country's history -- that's why they've built so many monuments about it. Even Israel built a monument to help its citizens remember the seven Israelis who died in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks -- they have not forgotten. But our President and too many in Congress have forgotten. And that, my fellow citizens, is not acceptable. This shouldn't even be an issue.

The biggest official reason that 9/11 hasn't been declared a federal holiday is financial. Even New York wouldn't turn it into a state holiday after they determined in 2002 that it would cost them $43 million. Some politicians tried to say that making it a federal holiday would commercialize the tragedy, but seriously folks, 9/11 shirts are in much higher demand than Labor Day or Columbus Day t-shirts. But the "Patriot Day" they've labeled September 11th, a National Day of Service and Remembrance, is not a federal holiday. I believe the public has declared which day means more to us and to patriotism in this country, and it's not currently on the federal schedule. And by the way, we don't call it "Patriot Day." We call it "9/11" and we always will.

The question becomes whether you do away with another federal holiday to make Patriot Day a real holiday, or if you add another federal holiday to the calendar, which will make two short business weeks in a row for our country in September and cost the states and federal government money. It seems like our esteemed members of Congress could figure this one out, but again, it comes back to political correctness and getting re-elected. God forbid they offend the unions who bank-roll so many political campaigns. And apparently the Italian-Americans got all offended about dropping Columbus Day. You can't make everybody happy.

Before we simply toss Labor Day and Columbus Day in the bin, let's consider the fact that we celebrate two holidays for the military -- Memorial Day and Veterans Day -- that could easily be combined. Plus most active and retired military would support recognizing 9/11 properly. One of the planes hit the Pentagon, after all. And it was a terrorist act against our country that mobilized our military and sent us into war. And it's the same date as the anniversary of the embassy attack in Benghazi.

We could easily stop celebrating the Presidents' Birthdays -- would that be such a tragic loss? No, what's a tragedy here is that some blowhards are able to keep a federal holiday off the calendar that I truly believe most Americans want. The BIGGEST difference is that many, many Americans will actually spend that day REMEMBERING 9/11 -- it will not be a day attributed solely to barbecues and discounted shopping.

Drop the "Patriot Day" title and rename it "First Responders Day," if calling it "9/11" isn't enough. Two other federal holidays have come and gone in our history -- "Victory Day" celebrating our victory over Japan, and "The Eighth," a holiday that commemorated the Battle of New Orleans that won the war of 1812 against the British. It is possible to do away with a holiday without forgetting its history. Nobody gets hurt by it. That's not the case for the families and loved ones of the people who died in several places on September 11th, 2001, when terrorists undermined our faith in our national security by taking out some of the nation's most iconic buildings, filled with innocent civilians, with airplanes full of yet more innocent victims.

That's not the case for the almost 21,000 of the 60,000 registered first responders who are specifically undergoing serious treatment RIGHT NOW through the World Trade Center Health Program for the toxic and hazardous air they breathed on that horrible day, and for months thereafter while they conducted first a search, then only a recovery, mission to find the victims.

This isn't going away anytime soon. Perhaps they're not dying fast enough for the members of Congress who will have to give up other funding for pet projects to pay for the healthcare of these heroes. If Americans would just forget about them, then our government could put the expense of that nasty unpleasantness behind us, purely for budgetary reasons. I'm sure you understand, right? No. That's unacceptable. It is up to us now to make sure we fund their care for the duration of their lifetimes. It's our job to make sure that when our grandchildren are running this country, they are still taking care of those people. And we do that by teaching them the extreme significance of September 11, 2001, right now. So that when we are gone, they do not forget.

Immediately after 9/11, our country supported our first responders in a way I'd never heard or seen in my lifetime. Cops and firefighters walked a little taller all over our country, knowing they were part of this elite family of those willing to give their lives to protect others. Our men and women in the Armed Forces had a battle cry when fighting wars for other countries on other continents to protect our freedom.

Another Democrat from New York, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, is one of the loudest voices now calling on fellow members of Congress to extend the care coverage for those suffering from 9/11 illnesses. I'd love to see her and Rep. Maloney take up the cause of giving September 11th the federal holiday status it so richly deserves, too. It's all really about the same thing -- figuring out how to make sure Congress and our nation will never forget the promise to our nation's heroes.

Make the actual date of September 11th a federal holiday. None of this assigning it an "Every Second Monday" or "Every Second Friday" status. It's not like anybody who has any connection to the date, or even basic human compassion, doesn't spend a lot of time on that day thinking about what happened in 2001. It was a day that brought us all together in the most tragic of ways. It showed the best and the bravest and the strongest of Americans. We stood together as a nation for months afterward.

It's not too late to fix this. It's our duty. It hurts to remember. But we HAVE to because we made a promise that we would always remember their sacrifice. If we make 9/11 a federal holiday, it will be a lot harder for our politicians to decide caring for the first responders and survivors is no longer important.

Click here to go the website that lists all the members of the House and Senate, find your representatives and send them a message telling them that you have not forgotten. Tell them they must make taking care of our 9/11 heroes a priority. Tell them to make September 11th a federal holiday while they're at it. We must #NeverForget.