In remembering we honor those who perished, so here’s my story from September 11…
On that beautiful September morning, I stepped out of my apartment at 5th & Constitution just like any other Tuesday. I was headed to the United States Senate, where I worked at the time. But on Tuesdays we had a Bible study in the Dirksen cafeteria before work, so I left early. It was cooler then, starting to feel like fall. Finally.
But when the Bible study was over, and I got to the office, the tragedy had already started. The TV in the front office showed a gaping hole in the side of the World Trade Center. My boss, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) was a senior member of the Appropriations Transportation subcommittee, so committee staffers were already in the office working on what was clearly an FAA issue. Some small plane, we reasoned, had been lost, or lost power, and accidentally crashed into the tower.
We went into our regular morning staff meeting at exactly 9:00 am. And as we sat there, our legislative counsel kept an eye on the tv just outside the conference room.
Until he jumped from his chair. The second plane had just hit the second tower.
This was not an FAA issue. We were under attack.
Senator Shelby was also Vice-Chairman of the Intelligence committee. Soon he left for the secure committee office to huddle with staff there, and we left for our desks.
Almost every desk in the Senate has a TV next to it, so staff can watch the floor on CSPAN to know when a vote is coming up. That morning every channel showed the same view: reporters on rooftops with plumes of black smoke billowing behind them.
In that surreal moment, I don’t exactly remember when we found out about the Pentagon. We watched in horror as the first tower collapsed as well. It was about the time they finally evacuated us. News of another inbound plane finally prompted Capitol Police to take action.
As we left the office, I heard a loud boom. Looking across the street at the Capitol dome, I thought it was another bomb, but later found out it was the sound of several floors of concrete collapsing within the charred rubble of the Pentagon.
With all of the bridges closed across the Potomac, several friends from Virginia came to my apartment three blocks away. And we spent the day there, talking to family and friends back home. Checking on friends in other offices. Are you okay? Do you know anyone at the Pentagon? Are there any other attacks?
That afternoon, I walked to the market. Police had pulled multiple cars across the roads around the Capitol, and they were armed to the hilt. I bought a pack of chicken breasts and took it back to grill. One of my co-workers had taken a legal pad and wrote her grocery list. We had nothing else to do. For people who had left our homes and families to come to Washington to serve the American people, we were helpless, so we did the best we could to pass the time.
That night, the members of the Senate, who just the day before had been at each others throats, stood shoulder to shoulder on the steps of the Capitol and sang God Bless America.
The next day, we went to work. Showing up, under armed guards and heavy searches, was all we could do to show our patriotism. We saw images of celebrating in the Middle East. I talked to the Senate Chaplain about joining the Army.
But mostly, we were just there. And on that day, September 12, that was enough.