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Remembering 9/11

11 years ago I was still in college, working towards my engineering degree. I was 20 then and it was a time of growing up for me. In less than a year I’d be 21, an adult by all rights. I was in my 4th year in college, I still had 1 more year (I was taking up a 5-year course then) and I was thinking of what I’ll be doing after my last year in school… but most of the time I was just enjoying what life I had back then. I was carefree, I was happy, I was safe.

I first heard of the 9/11 attack in school. We had a tv set in our school lobby and it was glued onto the news. I was having a break in between my late afternoon classes and saw an image on the screen that didn’t make sense to me. There were two tall building on fire, debris was falling from its many shattered windows. Where is this? What’s happening, I don’t understand… The news anchor said those images are from The World Trade Center in New York. America was under attack it seems… but from who? And why? I looked around the lobby and the faces of those around me reflected the same confusion in mine. It was all strange for me, surreal even.

We haven’t realized it yet, but life as we know it was changed by that one (orchestrated) attack. I live outside the US, though it shouldn’t technically affect us it still did. Air travel, supposedly one of the safest way to travel (according to statistics), suddenly became not only life threatening but also a tool for terrorism. Hijacking of planes was nothing new but using it for the hijacker’s suicide mission, thereby killing him/herself together with all the passengers (and the crew) in the process, was taking it a step higher towards real evil. For people like us, it was unthinkable but it has become a reality… a very scary reality.

It’s been 11 years since the terror attack and images I see from that day still gives me that hunted feeling. The loss and waste of life, the far reaching repercussions, the grief still being felt by the family and friends who lost their loved ones… it’s all too much to bear. But amidst all the chaos and loss, there is still that sense of hope, love, brotherhood… we feel that despite everything not being ok, despite being  forced to leave behind everything we used to know and every perceptions we used to have… we will overcome this, we will strive to rise above the situation, and we will move forward towards a better future.

Here are some images that moved me and still continues to move me beyond word…

Rescue workers carry mortally injured New York City Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge

Rescue workers carry mortally injured New York City Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge from the wreckage after he was killed by falling debris while administering last rites to another victim.

In a scene repeated with terrifying frequency as flames engulfed the top of the towers, a man falls (or leaps, as was evidently the case with many victims) to his death from the World Trade Center.

In a scene repeated with terrifying frequency as flames engulfed the top of the towers, a man falls (or leaps, as was evidently the case with many victims) to his death from the World Trade Center. On the morning of September 11 photographer Richard Drew, in the midst of another assignment, got the call to drop everything and head to the World Trade Center. As soon as he arrived downtown he began shooting; later in the day, as as he processed what he had shot, he was especially struck by this photo — and with reason. One of the most recognizable pictures made on 9/11, the image from a purely photographic perspective is breathtaking: the miniscule human form caught against the massive, abstract background of the towers is so obviously helpless, and doomed, that we’re tempted to reach out our hands to try and cradle the tiny anonymous figure. And while Drew himself refuses to conjecture about the man’s identity (“I prefer to think of him as a sort of Unknown Soldier,” he told LIFE.com), it’s impossible not to put ourselves in the falling man’s place — with all the dread and empathy that that sort of transference commands.

Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 (L) flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers

Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 (L) flies toward the World Trade Center twin towers shortly before slamming into the south tower (L) as the north tower burns following an earlier attack by a hijacked airliner in New York City September 11, 2001. The stunning aerial assaults on the huge commercial complex where more than 40,000 people worked on an ordinary day were part of a coordinated attack aimed at the nation’s financial heart. They destroyed one of America’s most dramatic symbols of power and financial strength and left New York reeling.

Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center

Hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center and explodes at 9:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001 in New York City

An unidentified New York City fireman walks away from Ground Zero after the collapse of the towers.

An unidentified New York City fireman walks away from Ground Zero after the collapse of the towers. Photographer Anthony Correia told LIFE.com of this picture: “He just looked so exhausted, so beat up.” Correia knelt down and took his shot as the man walked by. “I acknowledged him, and he acknowledged me. But he never stopped.” The steady gaze, meanwhile, of this lone firefighter allows us a window into the experience of literally thousands of rescue workers and first responders. I was in there, his eyes seem to say. Be thankful that you can’t imagine what I saw.

A New York City fireman calls for ten more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble

A New York City fireman calls for ten more rescue workers to make their way into the rubble in this evocative photograph by U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Preston Keres. In the months and years since 9/11, the word “heroes” has been tossed around so much that, in some respects, it’s been made meaningless. But no sensible human being would argue that the work performed at Ground Zero by countless first responders — police, EMTs, firefighters, and unheralded, anonymous volunteers who scrambled on to “the pile” seeking survivors — was anything less than heroic. It’s an observation made a thousand times before, and yet it still bears repeating: as hundreds of thousands of panicked New Yorkers and tourists fled to safety and shelter, running away from the devastation, first responders were racing into the unimaginable slaughter and destruction. This photo — and its call for “ten more” — remains a distilled reminder of their bravery and sacrifice.

Firefighter Tony James cries while attending the funeral service for New York Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge at New York's St. Francis of Assisi Church, September 15, 2001.

On 9/11, the New York City Police Department lost 23 officers. The Port Authority police lost 37. The FDNY’s dead numbered 343. Here, firefighter Tony James cries while attending the funeral service for New York Fire Department chaplain Mychal Judge at New York’s St. Francis of Assisi Church, September 15, 2001. Photographer Joe Raedle, who attended and photographed funerals for weeks after September 11, told LIFE.com of this shot: “Anytime you see a fireman or a symbol of strength breaking down like that, it resonates.” In fact, Raedle’s photograph, with its ghostly echoes of James’ salute surrounding his tear-streaked face, speaks to how millions of people around the world felt in the days and weeks after the attacks: namely, that strength was what we all needed most, and that it was the one thing that was hardest to find.

Source: 9/11: The 25 Most Powerful Photos

For every firefighter, police, medical personnel, and other countless volunteers who selflessly gave their time, effort, skills, and (for the many inside the World Trade Center when it collapsed) even their lives… I salute you all. People like them makes me want to do better, be better. To describe them as “heroes” is not enough… no word in our dictionary will ever be enough.

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