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Five 9/11 Movies & Documentaries Worth Watching

September 11, 2001 was one of the darkest days in American history. As we know, four planes hijacked by terrorists, flew into the Pentagon, the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania killing several thousand people on the planes and on the ground.

Since those tragic events, millions of people have tried to make sense of that day including filmmakers who have applied their talents to making movies and documentaries about 9/11. While movies like 12 Strong, Lone Survivor and American Sniper are certainly related and undoubtedly connected to 9/11, the movies we selected are movies about 9/11 directly.

Here are USAMM’s five 911 movies that are must-see. They aren’t ranked in any particular order.

1. Man in the Red Bandana (the ESPN version)
While there is a full-length version narrated by Gwyneth Paltrow, we picked the ESPN version not only because it is narrated by Edward Burns who played Pvt. Richard Reiben in Saving Private Ryan, but mostly because the ESPN version is so concentrated with raw emotion. Not to mention, the way the story is presented sucks you in from the opening scene which has a camera flying over water and heading into downtown Manhattan. And then you hear Edward Burns ask a powerful question.

The short documentary which runs less than 15 minutes long tells the viewer about Welles Crowther, a young New Yorker finding his way in the world when 9/11 happened. A lacrosse player, he was known as the ultimate teammate while playing at Boston College.

He was known to carry a red bandana his father had given him and it was sort of his personal trademark.

This is probably the best of the 911 movies out there not because it is a cinematic masterpiece, but because it tells a wonderful story, of an incredible human being. We don’t want to give too much away, but if you are looking for 911 movies to watch, start with this one.

Be ready. This probably the saddest of the 911 movies to watch. However, it will make you proud to learn some of the things that went on inside of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

2. World Trade Center
We are always a little partial to movies made by veterans because, well, many of us here at USAMM are veterans and we are a veteran-owned and operated business. World Trade Center, made in 2006, was created by Oliver Stone, a Vietnam infantry veteran, and Bronze Star Medal recipient. He is best-known for his movie, Platoon, but also known for blockbusters like Wall Street.

Starring Nicholas Cage (Code Talkers) and everyone’s favorite World War II tank driver from Fury, Michael Pena, the movie tells the story of two New York Port Authority Police officers who get trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center after it collapses on them. The movies is based on anecdotes shared with the filmmaker by survivors of the 9/11 attacks.

What makes this movie one of the 911 movies that you have to see is that it is also a true story. While the Man in the Red Bandana includes interviews with real people, Stone’s movie is done with actors, but it still delivers an incredibly moving message about what happened that tragic day and how first responders reacted to it.

Out of all the 911 movies, World Trade Center shows just how gritty the American spirit can be, but it also shows the commitment that the men and women of New York City’s fire and police departments have for each other.

Cage and Pena who aren’t necessarily known for their range as actors to some people are amazing in this movie and they convincingly come across as the heroes they portray. They are able to easily convince viewers that they are the everyday heroes that were involved in the tragedy that day.

There are few 911 movies that include actual people from the attacks. The two main characters played by Cage and Pena, the real-life heroes, are actually in this movie.

It is an exhausting movie to watch because it is hard to imagine the resolve these two men must have had to survive in that rubble. Hard to believe those buildings collapsed on top of them and, spoiler alert, they survived.

3. The Falling Man
Also released in 2006, this documentary by Henry Singer did not do as well as we thought it should, but maybe that is because of the subject matter. This documentary tells the story of a news photo captured by AP News photographer Richard Drew.

The photo shows a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center and Drew captured the man as he fell headlong to the ground. Some found the photo offensive and callous. Others thought it was an incredible piece of photojournalism which captured the horror of 9/11.

What the documentary does is give a face, an identity, to the person known as The Falling Man. The documentary humanizes the victims of 9/11. This is one of three 911 movies that is a documentary in our USAMM list.

The documentary forces the viewers to think, ‘what would I have done?’ It is believed that the man either slipped trying to escape the flames intensely burning in the building, or he jumped, fearing he would burn to death.

What The Falling Man does is make the viewer realize that all of the people who died that day were just going about their business, living their daily lives when the horrific attacks occurred. Nobody could have thought something like this would have happened.

4. United 93
This movie also came out in 2006 and it was made by Paul Greengrass who specializes in making films about historic events. The movie was based on the report created by the 9/11 Commission.

If you’re looking for big name actors, or some mellow dramatic storyline, you won’t find it here. This movie is factually based and that alone makes this movie a must see on our 911 movies list.

As we know, the passengers of United 93 learned that three other planes had been hijacked so when they knew that their plane had fallen into a similar fate, they took matters into their own hands and fought back. The 9/11 Commission later determined that United 93 was supposed to be flown into the U.S. Capitol or the White House by the terrorists.

The tension is tangible, and the use of not-so-famous actors allows the viewer to really invest in the characters since we’ve never really seen them before. We don't get distracted by the fact that we know them from other movies. They become the heroes on that plane.

What is painful to watch is the fact that everyone on that plane must have known that they were going to die and yet, as passenger Todd Beamer said, “Let’s roll,” they fought back and saved the lives of others. The plane hit the ground, upside down at more than 500 m.p.h.

5. Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror
We’re including this one in our 911 movies list even though it is a documentary series because it helps tell the full story of 9/11. While this series can often lean politically depending on the episode, it’s investigation and content is solid.

Created in 2021 for Netflix, this five-part series dives deep into why 9/11 happened and how the United States responded. The key to watching this series is that you have to approach it with an open mind and avoid allowing any bias to influence you as you watch.

Our list of 911 movies is certainly not exhaustive, but if you are looking to reconnect with that horrible day, maybe even just to educate others, you can’t go wrong with watching any of these aforementioned recommended films.

If you have younger family members who are mature enough to handle the subject matter, all of these movies serve as great educational tools to teach others what happened on September 11, 2001 and why it is important to remember not just the day, but all of those that we lost.

Honoring 9/11: Five ways to Remember & Reflect

The attacks of September 11, 2001 forever changed the United States and set in motion a series of events that would impact the U.S. military and millions of service members who served in what would become the Global War on Terror.

Although the deployments have slowed for the U.S. military, and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom are now in the history books, there are still thousands of U.S. military personnel deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Many U.S. service members continue to deploy to combat terrorism.

Not long after the 9/11 attacks, there was an intense surge of patriotism and Americans posted U.S. flags on their homes, gathered to build care packages for deployed troops, and many flocked to the ranks to enlist and serve. It is hard to believe but many of those who enlisted not long after 9/11 are now eligible for retirement if they continued to serve in the military.

Now, 21 years later, while the day is still very vivid for millions, a growing number of Americans, because of their young age at the time of the attacks, hardly remember the fateful day. Others have simply moved on, tired of watching 20 plus years of war.

But for veterans who served in the nation’s longest war, we never forget. Many of us here at USAMM have worn the uniform and have served, including our CEO who enlisted in the Army because of 9/11. He also served in Iraq. We’ve employed veterans from all branches of service, including combat wounded veterans.

For the families and people who lost a loved one on that tragic day, 9/11 is a day for pause and reflection. Some remember, and others celebrate those who died that day, remembering who they were and what they brought to life.

Honoring 911 shouldn’t require a lot of inspiration if you were alive that day in 2001 and honoring 911 doesn’t have to be cumbersome for it to be meaningful. Here are some ideas.

1. Honoring 911 by Flying the Flag
While many Americans fly the U.S. flag at their homes or places of business, many others don’t, not because they are not patriotic, but they just haven’t thought about it. Honoring 911 can be as easy as flying the U.S. flag.

As previously mentioned, shortly after 9/11, Americans posted the colors in numbers not seen since World War II. There was a surge of national pride.

Certainly, two decades of war can cause the nation to have battle fatigue, but in general, most around the country remember to take out their flags and fly them on 9/11.

Flags are available just about anywhere unlike in the days after 9/11. USAMM is proud to keep flags in stock.

2. Honoring 911 by Sending a Care Package
Millions of U.S. service members deployed overseas to combat terrorists since 9/11. Many of them deployed multiple times. It’s hard to not run into a veteran who hasn’t deployed if they served in the last 20 years.

Not long after 9/11, some Americans felt that honoring 911 could be done by sending care packages. They sent treats, toiletries, books, magazines, coffee, etc.

Today, many Americans believe that the deployments for the Global War on Terror (GWOT) have stopped, but that’s not the case. Active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel continue to deploy overseas in support of anti-terror operations. And while many of the places U.S. troops are deployed are established and have creature comforts, many of the items that American service members crave are usually not readily available. Honoring 911 by sending some troops care packages is a great way to commemorate 9/11.

Some military member favorites are beef jerky, meat sticks, paperback books, magazines, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, razors, shaving cream, batteries, toaster pastries, chips, protein bars, protein powder, rehydration mix, cookies, toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, grooming items for men and women, sunscreen, lip balm, and anything else that you can think of that will transport easily without breaking or spoiling.

3. Honoring 911 by Donating to a 9/11 Cause
There are numerous charities and organizations that have sprung into existence after 9/11. Some organizations help first responders who have grown ill from breathing the dust at Ground Zero, and others help the families of fallen veterans who died serving in the GWOT.

Honoring 911 can be as easy and meaningful as finding a good organization to donate to which will help people directly impacted from 9/11. This goes beyond throwing money at something. This is a direct way to impact the lives of those affected by 9/11.

While many of the families directly impacted by 9/11 might have been covered by health and life insurance, sky-high medical expenses are left behind and many of these charities establish funds to help families who lost a loved one or have someone to care for as a result of 9/11.

4. Honoring 911 by Visiting Attack Sites
Everyone should make the trek to see at least one of the 9/11 sites. Whether it is the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero, or the Flight 93 Memorial. Every American should make the time to visit these solemn grounds and reflect on what happened that day.

The Flight 93 Memorial is managed by the National Park Service. The other two sites are managed by non-profits.

In addition to visiting the sites, donations are accepted for two of those sites which are managed by non-profit organizations. Honoring 911 by visiting the sites and donating money to support their upkeep and awareness programs is a good way to help keep this important moment in American history alive for generations to come.

But beyond donating money, visiting these sites is stirring. It is overwhelming to be at the site where such a horrific human tragedy occurred.

5. Honoring 911 by Sharing
Probably the most important way of honoring 911 is to talk about it, especially to younger generations. Young Americans should be aware of what happened on 9/11 and having discussions with them is far more educational than what can be taught in a history book.

Honoring 911 by talking about where you were, what you were doing, what you saw, how you felt, is far more impactful to a person who is too young to remember 9/11.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 are an important part of American history. Everyday we should honor those who died that day, but we should undoubtedly do something to reflect on September 11th of every year.

GWOT Expeditionary Medal: Who Is Eligible?

GWOT Expeditionary Medal Background
The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal was established by Executive Order 13289 on March 12, 2003 to recognize service members of the Armed Forces of the United States who have deployed abroad for service in the Global War on Terrorism on or after September 11, 2001 to a date to be determined. The GWOT Expeditionary Medal is only awarded once per named operation, regardless of the number of deployments and periods of service supporting that operation. Effective February 9, 2015 (retroactive to September 11, 2001), separate deployments and periods of service in support of different named operations are recognized by bronze service stars. 

Eligible operations for award of the GWOT Expeditionary Medal include Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Nomad Shadow, New Dawn, Observant Compass, Inherent Resolve, Freedom’s Sentinel, Odyssey Lightning, and Pacific Eagle Philippines. Service members should check their service branch human resources office for specific qualifying dates.

The military department is the award approval authority. For designated military operations and associated areas approved for award of the GWOT Expeditionary Medal, each military department will prescribe appropriate regulations for administrative processing, awarding, and wearing of the GWOT Expeditionary Medal, ribbon, and appurtenances, which comply with pertinent laws, executive orders, federal regulations, and the policies and procedures outlined by the Department of Defense.

According to the Defense Department, presence in the area of operations alone is not sufficient to justify award of the GWOT Expeditionary Medal; service members must meet the following criteria:

Award Criteria and Eligibility
Service members must have been permanently assigned, attached, or detailed to a unit that participated, on or after September 11, 2001 in a designated GWOT Expeditionary Medal operation in the specified area of operations, for that operation, for 30 consecutive days or 60 non-consecutive days, or meet one of the following criteria, regardless of time spent in the area of operations:

a. Was engaged in actual combat against the enemy and under circumstances involving grave danger of death or serious bodily injury from enemy action.
b. While participating in the designated operation was killed, or was wounded or injured and medically evacuated from the area of operations.
c. Service members participating as a regularly assigned aircrew member flying sorties into, out of, within, or over the area of operations in direct support of the GWOT Expeditionary Medal designated operation are eligible for the GWOT Expeditionary Medal. Each day that one or more sorties are flown in accordance with these criteria will count as 1 day toward the 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive day requirement.

Service members must have deployed abroad for a designated GWOT Expeditionary Medal approved operation to a designated area of operation, for that operation.

The military service of the service member on which qualification for the award of the GWOT Expeditionary Medal is based must have been honorable.

Service members will only be awarded one GWOT Expeditionary Medal for each designated military operation, regardless of the number of deployments and periods of service supporting the operation. Service members may receive a subsequent award for each designated operation provided award criteria for each operation was achieved on separate deployments and periods of service.

Under no condition will units or personnel within the United States be deemed eligible for the GWOT Expeditionary Medal.

Subsequent Awards
Individuals are only presented a GWOT Expeditionary Medal upon initial award. Subsequent awards are denoted by wearing a bronze service star on the GWOT Expeditionary Medal. A silver service star is worn in lieu of five bronze service stars.

Authorized Devices
The following devices are authorized for wear:
1. A service star, bronze or silver five-pointed star, 3/16 inch in diameter.
2. Arrowhead device, bronze replica of an arrowhead, 1/4 inch high, that may be
authorized for wear by the Secretary of the Army or the Secretary of the Air Force.
3. FMF Combat Operations Insignia, a miniature bronze Marine Corps emblem that may be authorized by the Secretary of the Navy for U.S. Navy members assigned to Marine Corps units that participate in combat during the assignment.

GWOT Expeditionary Medal and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
Service members awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM) for an operation to combat terrorism between September 11, 2001, and October 28, 2003, in an area for which the GWOT Expeditionary Medal was authorized subsequently remain qualified for the AFEM. Such members, upon application, may be awarded the GWOT Expeditionary Medal in lieu of that AFEM. Such election is irrevocable.

No Service member will be entitled to both medals for the same act, achievement, or period of service (i.e., deployment or tour in the designated operation area).

GWOT Expeditionary Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal (ACM)/Iraq Campaign Medal (ICM)
Service members awarded the GWOT Expeditionary Medal for ACM qualifying service between September 11, 2001, and April 30, 2005, in an area for which the ACM was authorized subsequently remain qualified for that medal. Such members, upon application, may be awarded the ACM in lieu of that GWOT Expeditionary Medal. Such election is irrevocable. No service member will be entitled to both medals for the same act, achievement, or period of service (i.e., deployment or tour in the designated operation area).

Service members awarded the GWOT Expeditionary Medal for ICM qualifying service between March 19, 2003, and April 30, 2005, in an area for which the ICM was authorized subsequently remain qualified for that medal. Such members, upon application, may be awarded the ICM in lieu of that GWOT Expeditionary Medal. Such election is irrevocable. No service member will be entitled to both medals for the same act, achievement, or period of service (i.e., deployment or tour in the designated operation area).

GWOT Expeditionary Medal and the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal (IRCM)
Service members awarded the GWOT Expeditionary Medal for IRCM qualifying service between June 15, 2014 and March 30, 2016, in an area for which the IRCM was authorized subsequently remain qualified for that medal. Such members, upon application, may be awarded the IRCM in lieu of that GWOT Expeditionary Medal. Such election is irrevocable. No service member will be entitled to both medals for the same act, achievement, or period of service (i.e., deployment or tour in the designated operation area).

GWOT Expeditionary Medal and the GWOT Service Medal (GWOT-SM)
Service members may receive both the GWOT Expeditionary Medal and the
GWOT-SM if they meet the eligibility requirements of both awards. However, the qualifying period of service used to establish eligibility for one award cannot be used to justify eligibility for the other.