Plenty to celebrate amid the 9/11 horrors

Since the stunning terrorist attacks on American soil 10 years ago this morning, we as a nation have seen the best of times and the worst of times.

Today, it remains our challenge to do as we vowed to do a decade ago: see that the good wins out over the bad.

The worst of times started immediately. Within minutes, hijacked commercial airliners were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, then the Pentagon, and then into the countryside of Pennsylvania when ordinary citizens aboard realized what was going on and forced it to the ground.

An unusually bright Tuesday morning was quickly clouded as the Twin Towers crumbled to earth and a nation stood aghast. The numbers were hard to absorb. Almost 3,000 people were killed in skyscrapers that had symbolized a nation's economic might. More than 300 New York City firefighters died. About 150 people were killed at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden and his worldwide network of Islamic extremists called al-Quaida were quickly fingered.

Since then, America has absorbed more than 6,000 fatalities in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The nation has been at war for a decade.

Added to these hard times has been an economic recession.

The nation was relieved recently when bin Laden was killed in a daring mission by Navy SEALs. Earlier, the nation was cheered when Iraqis were able to vote.

But the best of times since Sept. 11, 2001, are also numerous. And they also were immediate.

Beaufort County residents were like citizens from sea to sea who banded together in a rare sense of unity, pride and purpose.

When this newspaper's first and only "extra" edition hit the press 10 years ago today, prayer services had already been announced in 16 churches countywide.

American flags were everywhere, perhaps most memorably flying from fire trucks as they moved through our streets.

On 9/11, 116 units of blood were donated at the local Red Cross chapter. Two weeks later, nearly 350 people showed up at a blood drive that could handle only 120 donors.

Church attendance soared.

A crowd estimated at 10,000 gathered in the grassy area of Shelter Cove Harbour on Hilton Head to hold candles, listen to patriotic music and raise nearly $50,000 for the families of firefighters in Ladder 105 and Engine 219 of the Fire Department of New York.

School children collected leftover lunch money and made donations that totaled $7,000 for the families of victims. Harley Davidson riders braved stinging rain to complete a poker run that, along with a drawing for a new Harley, raised $14,000.

Bluffton firefighters sent out a plea for work boots for firefighters experiencing the scorching heat of the ground zero rubble. In three days, they had 500 pairs. A Bluffton foot doctor set up shop in a deserted Burger King at ground zero.

Permanent memorials were established at Sun City Hilton Head and elsewhere.

Chambers of commerce worked together as never before to send the world a unified message that Beaufort County was still a great place to visit.

Beaufort troops were among America's first to leave.

Everyone, it seemed, grabbed a pen. The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette were swamped with letters to the editor. Children here wrote letters to children in New York. Older students recorded their feelings too. Nathan Sharma, then a student at Hilton Head Preparatory School, wrote:

"My small school came together that day to support one another, and the rest of the nation did the same, little by little. Soon the whole nation was united and stuck together to get through the hard times."

We were shaken to our core 10 years ago today. We found out what that core was made of, and it was good. As we look back, we wish things were still as Nathan described them. But we still take heart that the good shown in the ordinary people who rose to such great heights of heroism on Sept. 11, 2001, and thereafter, will ultimately win the day.