It’s been 20 years now, but it sure feels like yesterday. For those of us old enough to remember, that day is hard to forget. I’d bet there isn’t one among us that couldn’t tell you exactly where we were that day, what we were doing, and how we learned that terrible news.
I was a young Congressman. I had only been in Washington, D.C. just a few months at that point. I remember standing on the House floor waiting for the Speaker to open session up for the day when suddenly security came and whisked him off the floor. It was surreal.
We were all left there standing around. We had all seen the news earlier that morning, with the planes hitting the towers, but both towers were still standing at that point. When the third plane hit the Pentagon, we could hear it. More than that, we could feel the explosion. I made my way back to my office, which at the time looked out across the river towards the Pentagon, and I remember seeing the black smoke billowing into the sky.
It wasn’t long after that we watched the South Tower fall, saw the North Tower collapse, and heard the news of United Airlines Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania. It was only later we’d find out that plane was likely headed towards the Capitol. Had it not been for the incredibly heroic actions of the passengers, it may well have hit the Capitol.
There’s a lot we’ve learned since that day—about the courage of those that rushed into danger to save others at the towers, at the Pentagon, and aboard Flight 93. We also learned a lot about the failure of our national security agencies to effectively communicate with each other about terror threats and how Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban used Afghanistan as a training ground and base of operations to carry out the horrific attacks of 9/11.
The late former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used to say that, when it comes to national security, we have to be right every time, the terrorists only have to be right once. That’s a lesson we must never forget.
As I reflect on that day, I’m certainly reminded of those that lost their lives. I also think of those who fought for our country after we were attacked and those who died for our country to make sure we remained safe. I think of the emotions, the decisions made, and the changes that took place in our daily lives in the aftermath. It’s just as startling now as it was then. 20 years later and I think we can agree that 9/11 changed everything.