Why we honor the fallen of 9/11

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Why we honor the fallen of 9/11

September 12, 2022 - Ryan Denison, PhD

Paul Veneto pushes a beverage cart along the Boston harbor, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Veneto, a former flight attendant who lost several colleagues when United Flight 175 was flown into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is honoring his friends on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks by pushing the beverage cart from Boston to ground zero in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Paul Veneto pushes a beverage cart along the Boston harbor, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Veneto, a former flight attendant who lost several colleagues when United Flight 175 was flown into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is honoring his friends on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks by pushing the beverage cart from Boston to ground zero in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

Paul Veneto pushes a beverage cart along the Boston harbor, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021. Veneto, a former flight attendant who lost several colleagues when United Flight 175 was flown into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, is honoring his friends on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks by pushing the beverage cart from Boston to ground zero in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

The twenty-first anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred this past Sunday, and people remembered the tragic day in a variety of ways.

Some are better than others.

For example, a Virginia restaurant made news after its 9/11-themed menu became the focus of outrage and scandal.

The menu was titled “Patriot Day 2022 Seafood Sunday” and included items like “First Responder Flatbread,” “Freedom Flounder,” “Pentagon Pie,” and “2977 Chowder.” The latter is an homage to the number of victims who died in the attacks.

After taking down the menu, the store’s owner wrote: “I apologize for those I offended with the 9/11 seafood Sunday post. My intention was to bring attention to that horrific day 21 years ago. To honor those who lost so much as well [as] those who gave everything that day.”

As cringy as their efforts may have been, their desire to honor those who died is at least admirable.

Others, however, found a much more fitting way to do so.

Remembering 9/11 by pushing a beverage cart

Paul Veneto is a retired flight attendant who would have been on the plane from Boston to Los Angeles that flew into the World Trade Center except for a last-minute schedule change.

He remembered those who died by pushing a beverage cart from Dulles International Airport to the Pentagon.

The three-day trek marked the second annual occurrence of such a walk. Last year, in remembrance of the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, he spent twenty days pushing a cart from Boston to Ground Zero in New York City.

Veneto told reporters, “I needed to bring national recognition to the flight crews because of what they did that day,” adding that “at some point up there they knew they were not going home. We should recognize these guys, and I tried to make people aware but it didn’t seem to work until I started the push last year. I just wanted to bring peace of mind for these crewmembers and their families.”

The annual “Tribute in Light” presentation in New York City that illuminated the skyline where the World Trade Center towers once stood accomplished a similar purpose of helping people remember the victims of the attack.

Why do we honor the dead?

But what motivates such acts of remembrance?

While everyone has their own reasons, most of them relate back to one crucial principle: we honor the dead for the sake of the living.

Whether it is to remind those left behind that we haven’t forgotten their loss, to learn from events of the past in order to improve the present and future, or even to satisfy some sense of guilt that we have survived when others have not, those who have died are seldom the intended audience of our acts of remembrance and vigils.

And that’s OK.

In fact, it’s biblical.

Why God reminds us of history

Throughout Scripture, its authors recall the memories of previous generations for the purpose of speaking truth to those still alive.

  • In the promised land, God frequently called on his people to remember how he brought their forefathers out of Egypt and saved them from slavery in order to encourage them to trust him for the trials that lay ahead (Deuteronomy 6:12).
  • After the exile, Malachi spends most of his book recounting the sins of the present generation in ways that harken back to those of their ancestors.
  • And the author of Hebrews lists a litany of examples from past heroes of the faith in order to inspire faithfulness in his readers (Hebrews 11).

It’s only right that we honor the dead for the purpose of helping the living because it is only the living who stand to gain from such remembrance.

So whether it’s the anniversary of some great national tragedy or the memory of a personal loss, make a point of asking God to help you understand how to honor those who have passed in a way that can inspire those still among us to draw nearer to him and to grow as a result of the legacy they left behind.

In the end, that’s the best way to honor their memory.

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