The smoke and flame had not even dissipated before it was crystal clear that the terrorists had lost again. There was the flash, the boom, then a few brief moments to get their bearings before, almost as one, Americans began running toward the fire.
It wasn’t just the cops and the soldiers. It was spectators, bystanders, even runners themselves who seconds before had been struggling to cross the finish line after 26 brutal miles. In one terrible moment that shredded bodies and lives, they went from being ordinary Americans to something extraordinary.
Scratch that – “extraordinary” is the natural condition of Americans. That is neither mere sentiment nor some wishful thinking about American exceptionalism. It is a fact, demonstrated again and again, in peace and in war. Americans don’t wait. They don’t hesitate. They act.
We’ve seen the footage of 9/11 where injured people are clearing the area while long lines of rescuers head into the carnage. But those folks departing are often helping the injured or the fearful, even as the grim firefighters trudge toward their fate, utterly unwilling to allow those trapped in the towers to be lost without a fight.
The Americans on Flight 93 didn’t wait for rescue. They knew what lay ahead and chose death on their feet fighting to save others on the ground over cowering in their seats.
The Americans who ran toward the wounded on Patriot’s Day in Boston showed courage not just because they willingly faced the bloody slaughter of an anti-personnel IED but because, as everyone knows, terrorists delight in planting follow-on devices to kill those coming to the aid of the original victims. Watching video of the Massachusetts Army National Guardsmen ripping through the metal barrier to use their combat lifesaver skills on the wounded, you could see the right shoulder insignia one wore. It was a “Screaming Eagle” 101st Airborne “combat patch,” earned in action in Iraq or Afghanistan – maybe both. That American warrior knew exactly what the risks were, and he didn’t hesitate.
You don’t see this kind of commitment in every other country. Certainly, other nations have their heroes and bravery is not uniquely American, but what is exceptional is our attitude, our individual, personal commitment – even at great risk – to act to protect our nation and our fellow citizens. We don’t wait for someone to come save us. To paraphrase the President, we are the ones we are waiting for.