SIXTEEN years ago today, terrorists sought to bring the United States to its knees, and instead brought the nation to its feet.
Those who sent the hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001, envisioned a horrific event they hoped would haunt the American psyche and wreck the economy.
If time had stopped when the planes crashed, the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell or the Pentagon burned, the conspirators would have won.
Time did not stop.
Firefighters, ambulance crews, police officers and others who responded to the World Trade Center led many people to safety. They continued their work even after the first tower collapsed. The world watched in awe, and mourned the dead. Americans lauded the heroes.
United Airlines Flight 93 passengers who learned about the other hijackings through cellphone calls determined they would not allow that plane to be used as a weapon. They broke into the plane's cabin, seeking to retake control from the terrorists.
The plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., preventing a likely attack on the U.S. Capitol or the White House.
More stories of bravery were added to the American tale. Most important, the nation's defining moment can be found in the response to the 9/11 attacks, not in the attacks themselves.
The Sept. 11 attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, including more than 2,700 in New York City. It left Americans stunned, shaken and angry.
In the days and weeks after the attack, Americans were united in their resolve to see those responsible for the senseless slaughter of innocent people either brought to justice or eliminated as a threat.
It took nearly a decade to find and kill the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, who watched helplessly as his command network was decimated and marginalized by the war on terror.
Viewed from a distance of 16 years, it is the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that is most striking. This nation was united in ways that had not been seen since the months and years after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
The most important lesson learned after Sept. 11 was that a united America can meet its toughest challenges. On this day, faced with troubling turmoil and angst at home and abroad, it is a lesson we would be wise to remember.