The weather on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 was bright and clear in Manhattan, Shanksville, Pa., and Washington, D.C.
It was also a fine morning in New England, a morning like any other, with no warning that it would soon be seared into our national consciousness as a morning unlike any other.
"On a beautiful late summer day, Flight 11 headed northwest, where the Berkshires, the Taconic Range and the Green Mountains mark the spot where the borders of Massachusetts, New York and Vermont intersect."
This is how a Sept. 13, 2001 article in the New York Times describes part of the unplanned route of the Boeing 767 out of Boston which crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan at 8:48 a.m. Sept. 11.
The article goes on to describe how the plane, after crossing over Northern Berkshire County in Massachusetts into New York state on a northwesterly course, veered sharply left over Amsterdam, N.Y., and followed the Hudson River south on what was now a mission of mass murder.
Flight 11 was one of four planes hijacked that day by a total of 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists armed with box cutters. Flight 175, also out of Boston, was deliberately crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m. that day.
Among those killed on Flight 175 that day were Peter M. Goodrich, 33, from Williamstown, Mass., who had family in Bennington. Also killed was the Rev. Francis E. Grogan, CSC, 76, a priest of the Holy Cross order, originally from Pittsfield, Mass., who at one point had served as assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Bennnington.
Of Goodrich, a kind and inquisitive young man, one person who knew him said in the horror and shock of the aftermath: "For Christ's sake, he read the Quran!"
Peter's father, Don Goodrich, was the keynote speaker in Bennington during tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2011. This was at the commemoration and monument dedication at the Memorial Fountain Park.
From Sept. 11, 2001 on the watchword became "9/11 changed everything." The first reaction was unity marked by fierce patriotism. Memorial flags came out of drawers and closets and were proudly displayed. Idealistic young people volunteered for military service. Donations poured forth and the populace was ready to sacrifice to defeat those who had plotted and carried out this treacherous attack.
But this unity was squandered less than two years later by the decision to attack Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks. Rather than conduct a draft or even raise taxes to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, our leaders encouraged business as usual, to go shopping.
Fifteen years later, war still continues in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The catastrophic Syrian civil war has led to the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Al-Qaeda's monster offspring, ISIS, though besieged by constant bombing from the U.S. and others, strikes fear into the hearts of Westerners.
It's hard to imagine how open and relaxed a society we were on Sept. 10, 2001. How freely we could come and go and people from overseas with the proper paperwork could come and go. This was the U.S. where several Middle Eastern men could attend a flight school and openly indicate they had no interest in learning how to land a plane once it was airborne.
It's hard not to argue that Sept. 11 changed our country for the worse. We have been mired in war for nearly 15 years now. We underwent the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. The "homeland" may be more secure, but the world in general is not. We still as a people rely on a volunteer class of warriors to defend us, with most people making no sacrifice at all. We are increasingly polarized.
Among our politicians are those who have embraced fear-mongering — use torture, kill the families of terrorists, bomb them until the sand glows, exclude all Muslims and on and on.
The challenge that Sept. 11, 2001 so brutally placed before us was this: can we keep our people secure while being true to our best ideals of freedom, decency and the rule of law?
It's still an open question.