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Fear is an invaluable human instinct that perpetuates our survival. Without fear, we would make any number of potentially fatal decisions each day — walk into traffic, pick up a poisonous snake, stand too close to the edge of a cliff.

Fear tells us to run away from danger. But there are people who overcome those powerful instincts that tell them to flee and, instead, run toward the danger.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11. On that fateful day, al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, crashing two into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In each instance, men and women ran toward the terror to help others, putting their own lives at risk. They ran toward the fire.

In New York, 412 firefighters, police officers and emergency workers perished. Most of the deaths occurred when the buildings collapsed as the rescuers were trying to reach those who were trapped by the fires. Others were killed by falling debris.

At the Pentagon, the first acts of heroism were performed by people inside the massive building who survived the attack. They helped move the wounded to safety until emergency workers arrived and took over the rescue efforts.

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It is believed that the hijackers on Flight 93 were going to crash the plane into the White House or the U.S. Capitol. Several passengers learned of the other attacks and decided to try to retake control of the plane.

Passenger Todd Beamer could be heard over a call to a telephone operator — “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.” The passengers could be heard storming the cockpit as the hijackers abandoned their plan of attack and, instead, crashed the plane, killing all on board.

Our country suffered a series of devastating attacks that day 20 years ago. The lives of 2,977 innocent people were lost in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville. The savagery shook our country to the core.

On this anniversary two decades later, we pause to remember the loss, honor the dead and once again pledge our commitment to keeping our country secure while continuing the fight against the existential threat of terrorism.

But we also remember with pride and humility, the first responders and the passengers of Flight 93 who gave their lives to try to save others. These men and women represent the best of us. They must have been terrified, but they overcame the primal instincts to flee and, instead, ran into the fire.

Hoppy Kercheval hosts “Talkline,” on MetroNews.

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