By Roy L. Williams
On September 11, 2001, life as I knew it changed forever.
My oldest brother, Army Maj. Dwayne Williams, 40, was among 184 people killed when Muslim extremists hijacked a jet and crashed it into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The attack happened just two months after the 18-year Army veteran, Ranger and paratrooper began working in the nation’s military headquarters.
By the time that horrific day known as 9/11 ended, nearly 3,000 Americans had been killed by Muslim hijackers who also crashed planes into the Twin Towers in New York City and in a Pennsylvania field.
The tragedy made my mother, Pearl Williams, a member of a group that no parent willingly desires to be a part of: the Gold Star Mothers who lost an American military member to war. She always knew one of her three sons serving in the military – Dwayne and Kim (U.S. Army) and my identical twin Troy (Air Force) – could one day lose their lives fighting to protect our American freedoms. But my mom never imagined losing one in a time of peace in an attack on the Pentagon, seemingly the safest place for a soldier to serve.
Ten years ago on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 while working as a reporter at the Birmingham News, I wrote a column published amidst a political atmosphere eerily similar that what is taking place today. https://www.al.com/birmingham-news-commentary/2011/09/viewpoint_put_differences_asid.html
Today as we prepare to reflect on the 9/11 tragedy 20 years later, I urge my fellow Americans to return to the spirit of unity, patriotism and kindness that was exhibited across the nation in the middle of our personal pain.
At a time when Americans relive what I call the Pearl Harbor of today’s generation, an unprecedented act of war on American soil, we are not a united nation.
Instead, we are a nation of red states and blue states as Republicans and Democrats fight constantly.
We are a United States divided over how to deal with the COVID-9 pandemic and fighting over whether to wear masks or get vaccinated.
We are a country embroiled over the issue of race a year after the George Floyd killing by a Minneapolis cop sparked racial protests across the country.
We are a city, state and nation engulfed in a rising tide of crime.
As we pay respects on Patriot Day, (September 11), take time to think about what we can do to live up to the legacies of my brother Dwayne and the nearly 3,000 other lives lost on 9/11.
Proudly wave our American flag. Stop arguing over COVID restriction and the vaccine. Hug a neighbor or co-worker (safely masked up of course). Call a loved one or friend you haven’t talked to in a while. If we hold a grudge over a past discretion or argument, make the first step to resolve the dispute peacefully.
If you and our spouse are in disagreement, don’t go to bed angry. Apologize.
You never know if it’s the last night you will have together alive on this earth.
The greatest gift we can make to pay respects to the legacy of my brother Dwayne and the nearly 3,000 other heroes who died that fateful day is to renew the love of God, country and our neighbors that make the United States of America the greatest nation on earth.
Roy Williams is the public relations director of The Birmingham Public Library and spent 25 years as a newspaper reporter, mostly at the Birmingham News.