We rose at the usual time that Tuesday, greeted by a crisp fall morning as autumn settled in and our jackets came out.

Mondays carry the disappointment of a weekend spent, but Tuesdays are typically business as usual, make progress kind of days.

We put on our shoes, grabbed our book bags and hand bags, lunch pails and car keys and out the door we went. Other people were already aboard commuter trains, buses and airplanes, crisscrossing to their destinations.

East Coast kids were in school already, and many workers were on the job or nearly there when, at 8:46 a.m. Eastern time, our lives would be forever changed.

That’s when American Airlines Flight 11 impacted floors 93-99 of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Confusion cluttered our thinking. Could this have been a tragic accident?

Seventeen minutes later, when the South Tower was hit — United Airlines Flight 175 flew into floors 75-85 — we knew.

That sickening feeling knotted our stomachs as reality set in. We were under attack.

It all happened so fast, but the day would feel like it had been a week by the time midnight came.

A half-hour after the attacks in New York and 200 miles away in Washington, D.C., a third aircraft, American Airlines Flight 77, hit the Pentagon.

Five minutes later, the FAA order all flights over the U.S. grounded, but still aloft was United Airlines Flight 93.

It would be the final plane used to kill on 9/11, intentionally crashed into a Pennsylvania field by terrorists when passengers, aware of the earlier attacks and that their plane had been hijacked, stormed the cabin.

They died heroes, saving countless numbers of Americans who would have died had terrorists succeeded in steering the airplane into yet another targeted structure.

Heroes and heartache were in abundance that day.

By the time black smoke rose from that Pennsylvania field, back in New York the South Tower had already collapsed and by 10:30, the North Tower fell, too.

In less than two hours from the time of the first attack, the Twin Towers — each over 1,300 feet tall — were reduced to piles of concrete and steel, entombing thousands.

The immediate death toll on 9/11 neared 3,000. The terrorists were indiscriminate in selection of their victims. All ages, infants to elderly were among the dead. Ancestry and religion mattered not.

The dying didn’t end there. Many first responders succumbed in the years since from the toxic air they breathed as they dug through rubble, desperately searching for survivors.

In time, cancer claimed yet more victims, as did the demon of guilt for those who couldn’t cope with their own survival after loved ones perished.

And once it was known that al-Qaeda perpetrated the attack, America took aim at its enemy, hunting down the terrorists for their day of reckoning, and spilling more of our own blood.

Nothing has been the same since the attacks, our innocence forever lost. In the aftermath Americans stood together, but 18 years later, we have allowed our differences to divide us.

Not today, not on Patriot Day. As the sun rises on this 9/11 let us be united by our shared right to live free.

Long may the eagle soar.

Susan Duncan is the editor of the Jeffersonville, Indiana, News and Tribune. Reach her at susan.duncan@newsandtribune.com.

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