Twelve years ago today, a bright, beautiful September morning was interrupted by news of a plane flying into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

Eighteen minutes later, as media outlets scrambled to get live coverage of what was believed to be a horrible accident, another plane crashed into the South Tower.

It was no accident. Both commercial airliners had been commandeered by members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization. As Americans watched in stunned, unbelieving horror, two more attacks involving jetliners took place during the next hour at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and in Western Pennsylvania where passengers aware of what had happened in New York City overcame the captors and caused the plane to crash into a remote farm field, killing all aboard.

On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 innocent people were killed, including Parkersburg resident Mary Lou Hague, a young woman who was working in the World Trade Center. The death toll also included nearly 400 police and firefighters who responded to the attacks.

And in the seemingly endless military action that followed that day, U.S. servicemen including several area residents have been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many others have been severely injured.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, few Americans had ever heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda. Since then, both of those names have been burned into our psyche. For the past 12 years, most of America’s military decisions-and many of its political ones-have been made because of what happened 12 years ago.

American military forces have fought two wars: in Iraq, where U.S. forces stayed until 2010, and in Afghanistan where our forces remain and face danger every day.

The cost to this nation, to its treasury and to the mothers, wives, fathers, husbands, brothers, sisters and families has been terribly steep. It’s a tally that continues to grow.

Terrorism, whether here or in the Middle East, occupies our attention every day. We had protected ourselves and probably felt safe until this past April when two brothers whose family had immigrated to the U.S. from the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union set off crude homemade bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing five and wounding 280 others, many seriously. The brothers had been in the U.S. since 2002, seemed totally Americanized with many friends. Few suspected their extreme anti-American views.

And, last night, in remarks to the American people President Barack Obama-who was a state senator in Illinois in 2001-tried to make the case that military action may be needed against Syrian President Bashar al Assad for using chemical weapons on his own people. It is beyond irony that some of the rebels fighting against the Assad regime reportedly have ties to al-Qaeda.

Bin Laden is dead, killed in May 2011 by U.S. Navy S.E.A.L.S. during a daring raid on his compound in Pakistan.

But the terror organization he nurtured still lives and analysts say it may be even more dangerous today with more strident, hate-filled leaders patiently waiting for another opportunity to strike.

Today, as we look back at a tragic day in our past and remember the innocent people who died on that beautiful September morning, we must remain ever vigilant.