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Tribune editorial: We will never know the real toll from 9/11

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Ann Nicole Nelson of Stanley would be 50 today if she hadn’t been killed on Sept. 11, 2001. By all accounts she was on an upward track with her career and life.

We can only speculate what a young woman with a passion for knowledge, love of travel and a desire to succeed would have achieved. What’s certain is what our nation lost on that day is unfathomable.

There were 2,977 people killed when four airliners were hijacked with two flying into the Twin Towers, one into the Pentagon and the fourth crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers and crew attempted to retake the plane. They died preventing another attack on Washington, D.C.

Add to that the deaths of first responders attributed to their recovery efforts at Ground Zero. All that promise wasted. Children who never had a chance to grow up, people in the midst of flourishing careers that were never fully realized and families torn apart.

There’s no way to calculate our losses from the numbers. We will never know how many potentially great achievements never occurred because of the attacks. We do know that 9/11 forever reshaped our nation and world.

It changed how we travel and live our daily lives, it altered how we view other nationalities and religions and it spawned two wars. A generation has grown up not knowing peace and what life was like before 9/11.

We need to remember the courage demonstrated on that Tuesday 20 years ago. There was no shortage of heroism at the Twin Towers, Pentagon or on United Flight 93 above Shanksville. We have the remarkable cellphone conversations from those on the flights and those trapped in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Two books, among the many written about 9/11, that profile the courage are “102 Minutes” by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn and “Fall and Rise” by Mitchell Zuckoff.

The nation also learned it wasn’t as prepared as it thought. No one imagined 19 zealots would hijack four passenger planes and kill themselves and everyone aboard by crashing into buildings. Hijackings at the time were done for profit or political purposes, not to create havoc.

The government has changed its approach to dealing with terrorism. It’s a policy that requires constant revision because our enemies have shown a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice and no reluctance to kill the most innocent.

And so many innocents died on 9/11. Three North Dakota natives died on that day, a smaller toll than many states, but still a dreadful number.

Al Marchand, 44, a Fargo Shanley High School graduate, was a flight attendant on one of the United flights.

Robert Rasmussen, 42, a Hunter native and North Dakota State University graduate, died while attending a World Trade Center meeting.

Ann Nelson was a bond broker with Cantor Fitzgerald on the 104th floor of the north tower. Cantor Fitzgerald would suffer some of the heaviest losses in the Twin Towers. Nelson’s story would get the most attention in North Dakota, partially because of her engaging personality.

She’s been remembered in a number of ways across the state, possibly the most appropriate is Annie’s House Adaptive Recreation Program at Bottineau Winter Park. It offers services to individuals and veterans with intellectual and physical challenges.

It’s an uplifting legacy.

Unfortunately, we will never know what we really lost on Sept. 11, 2001.


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