Ten years ago our lives changed forever. I remember September 11, 2001 started out as a beautiful, clear, crisp day with just a hint of fall beckoning around the corner.

Thoughts of how perfect the day was were shattered shortly before 9 a.m. when we heard that a commercial airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower. Was it an accident or was it done on purpose? We had the right to question the intent because we knew that the north tower had been victim of a terrorist attack back in 1993.

Any doubts we may have had were dashed quickly when a second jetliner slammed into the south tower 3 minutes past 9. As the day slowly unfolded we learned that at least two more planes had been hijacked. One crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth, which flew out of Newark, crashed into an empty field in western Pennsylvania.

We will always remember where we were when we first heard the news. Many of us rushed to our television sets and watched in horror as first the south tower came crashing down, only witness soon afterward the north tower’s fall. I remember wondering how many people worked in the towers, and how many got out. And I prayed.

Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks of that day; 147 were residents of Monmouth County. They were regular people like you and me: sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, and mothers and fathers. All of them left grieving families behind.

At the World Trade Center itself, 400 of the dead were first responders, people who took an oath to serve and protect, and that’s exactly what they did. As survivors came streaming out of the buildings, these first responders were rushing in, trying to get to the impact zones high above. Like most of the people who perished inside those buildings, they died doing their jobs.

We all know someone who died or someone who lost a friend or a relative that day. As Americans, these were our brothers and sisters, too. It was felt very deeply here.

In addition to the acts of violence and depravity that day were acts of extreme courage and heroism. Thousands of people inside the towers did not die, and there are remarkable stories of how they helped one another to safety before the buildings collapsed.

As many sought refuge away from the towers, others gravitated toward it. In the days following the attacks, police and rescue workers from around the country took leaves of absences, traveling to New York City to help sift through the ruins. Many, naturally, were from New Jersey.

We remember those individuals who died and what they meant to us in our personal lives. We also remember them because, as a result of their passing, we are a stronger, more secure nation.

We remember them because their deaths, however tragic, brought us all closer to one another as a nation in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The compassion and humanity shown to one another was so strong it easily overshadowed issues of race, religion and politics.

We also remember them because each of us has an obligation to do so.

And that obligation entails educating people about what we know – that having seen firsthand the consequences of terrorism and the terrible effect it has on individual lives and communities, we pray that we might one day live in a world where people can go about their business, both at home and abroad, without fear of being injured or killed in a terrorist attack.

In doing so, we give each of the names engraved on memorials across the nation a special meaning and purpose. And the compassion and kindness that we all experienced in the days, weeks, months and years after the attacks will endure. That is how we should honor the dead.

Yes, there is a new normal to contend with when we board a plane or simply renew a driver’s license, but we also learned a lesson from 9/11: that no matter how bleak a situation might seem … what is good about America will always rise to the top. Compassion and humanity will always triumph over fear, intimidation and violence.

So, the thing for us to do 10 years after Sept. 11, 2001 is not to remember it as an anniversary of a tragedy, but to honor the people who died. 

And while their names are engraved in the granite walls of so many memorials throughout this great country, their memories will be etched in our hearts forever.

Thank you. Remember. Never Forget!

* Thomas A. Arnone is a Monmouth County Freeholder.