Nineteen years ago on this day, unspeakable acts of terror changed life in the United States as we knew it. The cloudless blue skies and the picture-perfect September day belied the horrific acts that claimed the lives of 3,000 innocent souls.
On September 11, 2001, Americans watched TV, spellbound, as two planes intentionally struck and toppled the World Trade Center towers in New York, symbols of American democracy and might. Terrorists also attacked the Pentagon, and another hijacked plane went down in a field in Pennsylvania as passengers tried to overtake the terrorists. Others later died from illnesses as a result of their relentless work in searching for survivors and recovering those who were killed.
But for Eunice Hanson and Lee Hanson of Easton, 9/11 was devastatingly personal. They watched TV in horror, too, and it was the worst day of their lives. The Hansons lost their son, Peter, their daughter-in-law, Sue-Kim, and their granddaughter Christine Lee, 2, when United Airlines flight 175 flew into the World Trade Center’s South Tower.
Peter had called his parents from the plane, telling his father that they had been hijacked; he thought the hijackers had already killed somebody and he didn’t think the pilot was in control of the plane. Lee was still on the phone with Peter when the plane crashed. Peter, Sue-Kim and Christine died in each other’s arms.
The Hansons’ world stopped forever that day. For others, the world paused for that moment in time then resumed to a new, more fearful normal. But people also came together, with neighbors helping neighbors and allies in other countries offering support and assistance.
The Hansons demonstrated extraordinary grace in the face of grief. In 2003, Eunice and Lee were instrumental in establishing the Hanson Exploration Center at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo. The center was created and named in honor of Peter, Sue-Kim, and Christine.
Peter is remembered annually by the Peter Burton Hanson Humanitarian Award given to a Joel Barlow High School student best exemplifying Peter’s dedication to social justice, human rights, volunteerism, and a passion for living. And at Northeastern University, Eunice and Lee were instrumental in creating and endowing a Peter Burton Hanson Memorial Lectures and Writing Award.
Eunice and Lee worked with town residents to erect the 9/11 memorial in front of the Easton Public Library, in memory of all of the victims. The memorial was dedicated on June 3, 2012, to the nearly 3,000 people who died, including the Hansons’ children, as a place for reflection and prayer in a beautiful setting.
The Hansons said at the memorial that, although they would never get over the pain of their loss, they know their children would want them to get on with their lives. They also expressed their gratitude for the fire, police and emergency service workers who selflessly rushed back into the burning buildings to save people without thinking about their own well-being.
If we’ve learned anything from 9/11 observances over the years, it’s that the anniversary brings back disturbing memories; however, it can also be a time of healing, a time to acknowledge that our lives and the world have continued since then. Changed, of course, but our lives and the world have moved forward and adapted to the changing times.
Despite economic, racial, and political differences, we unite on 9/11 as Americans facing new threats in this time, including the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. Life is short. There’s no time for hate. The Hansons, through their generosity and care of humanity, showed the power of grace in the face of grief. It’s a lesson we all can learn. And never forget.