Tomorrow is September 11.

It was 12 years ago that terrorists hijacked four jetliners. Two were crashed into the World Trade Center. One fell onto the Pentagon. Brave passengers overpowered the thugs on the fourth plane and forced a crash landing in a field in Schanksville, Somerset County, preventing it from potentially flying to another Washington D.C. target.

It was a terrorist attack on America. It was well-planned and devastating in many ways.

It cost nearly 3,000 lives at the time. Hundreds more deaths have occurred since by sickness from fighting those horrific fires and cleaning up the toxic waste from the destruction that occurred. In addition, the subsequent war which following in our quest to subdue the al Qaeda faction also resulted in hundreds of American soldiers killed and wounded.

When the attack occurred, our financial system was temporarily crippled.

Our way of life changed drastically through incredibly restrictive control on airline travel, government surveillance systems, and other anti-terrorism measures.

We must never forget what happened that dreadful Tuesday morning.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and many experts looked back to see what could have been done to prevent that horrible series of events.

The truth is, in a free country where people are virtually unrestricted in movement and actions, there's little that could have been done.

It's like having someone come in your house and steal something and then proclaim, "I always knew he was a thief."

Unfortunately, suspicions aren't necessarily the element for prosecution or especially conviction. If it was, all of us would probably find ourselves under arrest at some point in our lives.

The attack of Sept. 11, 2001 does remind us to be ever vigilant of our surroundings. It tells us that as a nation, we must never let our guard down; that there always is someone out there who wants to do damage.

Actually, even before Sept. 11, 2001, we had terrorism. Remember what Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma City? Remember the preceding attack on the World Trade Center?

Sept. 11 was different in that so many innocent lives were taken. It was different in that it led us to a military conflict on foreign soil that lasted a full decade. It was was different in that it showed us even though we are the mightiest nation on earth, we have vulnerabilities.

There are four 9/11 services scheduled locally tomorrow. If you get a chance, attend at least one of them.

What 9/11 also must do is remind us that we must retain our defenses, that we can't take our enemies for granted, and we must always be prepared for any scenario.

It's very tragic that so many lives were taken. But it could have been worse. Imagine if those terrorists had managed to get nerve gas - like was used in Syria - or atomic weapons and use them in a populated location. We must not let that happen.

Nothing is impossible. That's why it is important to retain our strengths including building our economy, keeping our military intact and ready, and utilizing our technology as much as possible to prevent any type of terroristic recurrence.

Remember 9/11. It was a tragic day in America's history.

We must do all we can so it never happens again. We must give priority to America's needs and interests before administering any more global assistance.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com