It’s hard to believe it’s been 18 years since the world changed on what had been a beautiful, clear Tuesday morning — Sept. 11, 2001.

Since that fateful day when two planes seized by terrorists crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, another crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth was brought down in Pennsylvania after a heroic resistance arose, an entire generation has come of age.

There were plenty of lessons that Americans learned that day, including that we can never let our guard down when it comes to safety, and that we should never take our loved ones for granted.

When there is so much mayhem in the news nationally (and even hitting way too close to home in the greater San Antonio area in Wilson County), it’s debatable whether we are safer or not. 

Certainly, no major terrorist attack has occurred on U.S. soil since 9/11, and for that we can be very thankful.

When the event fades from overwhelming magnitude to memory, it’s easy to let the busyness of life distract us from appreciating our friends and family the way we should. 

It’s human nature to let the little things distract us until something really big happens to jar us out of our complacency.

I was sitting at home (since I worked a 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift back in those days) when the images of the jet airliners crashing into the World Trade Center were aired across the world. I was in the habit of turning on the news every morning and actually saw the second plane strike the second tower on live tv.

There was a feeling that it might just be the tip of the iceberg, that additional attacks might be planned in the coming days or weeks, and there was also the strange chaos of packages containing white powder (and feared to be anthrax) turning up in various locations during that time.

One of the things that happened is that the world seemed to shrink a bit. 

Not since Dec. 7, 1941, had there been a sneak attack by enemy forces that killed thousands of Americans. However, that was an ocean and six decades away, something that seemed more a part of history than a lesson for the present.

A wave of patriotism covered the nation. We’d seen it before when the Gulf War broke out and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces were ousted from Kuwait, but this time it was different. We knew we were in for a long road this time, not a war that would last just a few weeks, but something that could go on indefinitely.

We saw many heroes step up that day. New York City firefighters and police who risked — and sometimes sacrificed — their lives to try and save other people were at the top of the list. 

There were also those who volunteered for the military so they could make a difference and help defeat the forces of terrorism, including Pat Tillman, who left a lucrative football career with the Arizona Cardinals to serve his country, and who ended up giving his life in the war against terror.

Another hero who gave his life in the war against terror was Three Rivers’ own Clovis Ray, a U.S. Army Ranger who died fighting in Afghanistan helping to keep America safe from those who would like to bring the war to our own doorstep. Ray’s death came in March 2012, more than a decade after the events of 9/11 launched our nation into a war it didn’t ask for, but a war that still lingers.

It can be easy to take our freedom, our safety and our ability to pursue happiness for granted. But we shouldn’t forget those who have sacrificed so much so that we can enjoy the fruits of what they have done — and continue to do — for us.

As another year passes and 9/11 grows more distant, we should remember that the lessons and sacrifices that came at such a painful cost 18 years ago are still as valid as ever today.

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. A Texan since 1973, he has worked for Texas newspapers for 25 years.