Editor’s Note: The letter and poem below were written in 2001 and appear in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
For Robert R. Taylor, family comes first. This 35-year-old was born in Roanoke, Virginia, and today lives in Annandale, Virginia, with his wife, Joan, and their two young children, John and Robert. Rob works as an attorney for the U.S. Department of the Navy in the area of the Pentagon that was hit by terrorists Sept. 11. His office has been relocated to Arlington, and he expects to return to the Pentagon in April 2002. Rob’s interests include the cinema and playing and watching sports, especially skiing. He frequently travels to Pennsylvania, Indiana and Florida to see his and his wife’s families. He is Christian. On the morning of Sept. 11, Rob was out of the office, teaching a class at the Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. He wrote his essay days after the attack; his poem, three weeks later.
If you have not visited the scene of the Pentagon crash, you cannot imagine the devastation. Pictures on TV and the Internet do not do it justice. The damage is horrendous. A vast wound opens in the side of the building: Black, Blasted, and Evil. It looks like death. I cannot even begin to imagine standing amid the ruins of the WTC. My heart goes out to the rescue workers who have been immersed in that heart-wrenching environment for two weeks now, and who face many more months of the same. They have nothing but my utmost respect and empathy. They are truly heroes.
I drove by the building the day after the attacks and caught only the briefest glimpse of the damage. At that time, even that was almost too much. A week later, I returned and sat on the hill opposite the building, not far from where families of the victims had erected an impromptu memorial. By that time, the colony of rescuers, salvage experts and investigators had already encamped all around that side of the building, closing off access to all others. Their presence did little to blunt the inhumanity of the scene or of the wrongness that emanated from the wreckage.
Along with other displaced workers and survivors, I was offered the chance to take a close-up tour of the crash site. I chose instead to walk around the memorial. There is more there than there appears to be when you are just driving by: flowers, messages from loved ones, favorite personal effects, drawings and handprints from now fatherless or motherless children. The pain and sorrow there is deeper than at the crash site, but it is more, I don’t know, “human.” The building is only death and destruction. Here, there is death, but there is also love and a hope for better things for those who have passed and for those left behind.
Even after all that has happened, I wish I were back at the Pentagon. While I dread the horror of the impact site, I long for the relative security of the building’s interior. Defense Protective Service guards, some armed with automatic weapons of a type I have never seen, now stand guard at each entrance. Military police and black clad commandos patrol a perimeter well outside the range of most attacks. Even prior to the Sept. 11 tragedy, the Pentagon was largely invulnerable to most forms of attack: no accessible roads run close enough to the building to get a car or truck bomb close enough; the security guards can and do shoot intruders; and hand-held missiles would be difficult to position and fire by unmarked security and would likely cause little damage to the limestone and granite structure. By contrast, I step out of my temporary Arlington offices, past hired security guards who only occasionally check my ID, onto a heavily traveled public street that squeezes right between two fairly large federal office buildings. I imagine every person on the sidewalk who appears to be of Arabic descent carries a gun or a canister of nerve gas; every van or truck that passes close by the building or turns into the parking garage under my feet conceals a bomb.
Initially I feared mostly for my own life, taking some solace in my perception that my family was safe. The recent revelation of the “crop duster” threat has changed that, however. I now fear for the lives of my wife and children as well. The first night after we heard that news item, I was awake until 3AM searching the Web for information on chemical and biological toxins, their antidotes, and attack and evasion strategies. Three weeks ago, the thought of staying up late for such a purpose or the thought of the fear that inspired such an endeavor would have been inconceivable to me. Now it is all too real, and, I fear, reasonable. That is what enrages me more than anything. The thought of my little boys sick or dying from the effects of another such vicious attack.
We Are America
And We Will Not Forget.
While We are Wounded
While We are Worn by Grief
While We Wail under the Weight of our Loss
We Will Survive
We Will Overcome our Pain
We Will Make it a Part of Us and Who We Are
And We Will Return to Our Lives
But We will Not Forget
We Will Remember Our Heroes
We Will Cry Every Time we See the Towers Crumble
We Will Feel The Loss of Every Life As if It Were Our Own
We Will Weep for the Lost Rescuers, And the Flight 93 Passengers
Undaunted in the Face of Hopeless Tasks
We Will Die a little for every Death or Loss reported
But We Will Live a Little More at Each Story of Love, of Compassion, of Kindness, of
Bravery, or of Heroism, ordinary or extraordinary, that arose from tragedy.
We Will Live A lot more than We Will Die
And We Will Not Forget.
We Will Rebuild our Skylines, our Cathedrals and Citadels, our Dreams
We Will raise them to the Sky, Mightier than Before
We will do this not out of Resignation, or Duty or Need
But as Monuments and Memorials to those who are Gone
And to this Country
And to Everything We Hold Dear
They Will Stand as Shining Icons; Beacons that shout: “We Are America. Here Fell Our
Heroes, But Not Our Hope.”
So That We Will Not Forget
We will not Hate.
We will not Succumb to the Isolation, and Mistrust, and Hopeless Rage Upon Which our Enemies Rely and which
they have sought to foster in Us.
Instead, We Will Seek Out Those Who Have Wronged us and Who Seek to Wrong Us
We Will Be Strong, and Thorough, and Relentless.
We will Purge the World of This Evil.
We will Protect its Intended Victims.
We will do this not out of Spite, or Revenge, or Malice, but out of Love for those Lost and of
Those we still Protect.
But We Will Not Hate.
We will Mourn the fallen, those past and still to come.
We will Mourn the Widowed Husbands and Wives, the Fatherless and Motherless Children
We will Mourn, as we did 60 years ago, the evil and cruelty and violence of the World
which drives our actions.
We will do this, remembering our losses and vowing that such violence will not ever be allowed.
And We, All Americans of All Ethnicities and Religions and Backgrounds, Will Join Together to
Protect our Country and Each Other.
We Will Continue to Fight the Never Ending War for Freedom
We Will Win
Because We Will Not Forget
We Are America
We will Persevere
And We will Prevail
Because We Will Never Forget.