Those of us who grew up in the 1960s recall where we were when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or when Americans bravely landed on the moon, or, later, when the space shuttle Columbia shockingly exploded.
On September 11, 2001, America suffered a horrific event that touched all corners of the globe. It changed how we conduct air travel and protect personal safety; how the United States deals with a dangerous world; how we appreciate the fragile nature of life; and how loved ones can be taken from us in brief, tragic moments.
I was at the White House that beautiful September morning, showing a constituent through the president’s residence. Driving to my office in the Cannon House Office Building at about 8:45 am, I, like most Americans, heard the news of what I thought was a terrible accident between an airplane and a New York high-rise building. Capitol Hill police soon rushed into my office ordering me and my staff to leave the building — now. All the world later knew the truth of what had happened that bright fall morning.“Congressman, you’d better get out of here. We’re told another plane is in the air and headed for the Capitol.”
Trying to reach my wife, then an official at the U.S. Department of Commerce, was impossible. We had ridden to work together that morning, expecting to attend that evening’s annual White House picnic, to which all government officials are traditionally invited. What struck me then was how seemingly unprepared our nation was for those attacks, and yet out of that unpreparedness, ordinary Americans rose gallantly to respond.
The national mall was chaotic — sirens blaring, traffic jammed, people scurrying aimlessly away from the gleaming, magnificent Capitol Building, unsure of what lay ahead as smoke poured visibly from the Pentagon attack nearby. Police vehicles with bullhorns warned ominously: “Get off the mall! Everyone off the mall!” A policeman told me, “Congressman, you’d better get out of here. We’re told another plane is in the air and headed for the Capitol.”
The following days showed the nation as we’d all like to see it, with Republicans and Democrats setting aside political differences to unite in somber recognition that something serious had happened to our beloved country — and that we needed to speak with one strong voice. The September 13 National Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the National Cathedral was a time for all Americans, regardless of religious preference, to unite and give thanks for our wounded country and pray for God’s help in whatever lay ahead.
And it wasn’t just in Washington, D.C., that people gathered in prayer to mourn the loss of life and pray for safety in the days to follow. All religious denominations experienced overflow worshipers of all races, creeds and heritage.
This was a time of uncommon American unity. We felt deeply the pain of those who lost loved ones in New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. We watched, over and over, the televised broadcasts of the Twin Towers falling from lofty heights to dusty rubble, astonished at the loss of life, but likewise astonished that the death toll wasn’t higher. We marveled at the stories of bravery and selflessness and the sadness of innocent lives lost. For 9/11 touched all mankind, and our hearts went out to all who survived.
Visit the Pentagon today and you’ll see display cases of handmade quilts and other heartfelt expressions of sorrow for those who lost their lives there. The Pentagon Memorial Chapel and the artistic display outside of it are quiet monuments to those whose lives were taken in service to country. The 9/11 exhibit at the Newseum in downtown Washington, D.C., makes you weep.
This September 11 is the 10th anniversary of that historic tragedy. Think of all that has happened since then, and how much history has been made on the heels of 9/11. Our nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation, the George Nethercutt Foundation, will host an “Hour of Remembrance” for the Spokane region at the INB Center on Sunday evening. It’s a free concert open to the public, and it will feature remarks by Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, Fairchild AFB Commander Col. Paul Guemmer, and me. There will be music by the Spokane Gospel Choir and musical selections significant in American history taken from my book, In Tune with America: Our History in Song.
This event will seek to capture feelings of thanksgiving engendered by 9/11 — thanksgiving for a nation that seeks liberty and justice for all; for the many public servants, first-responders, military personnel and families who sacrifice for our freedom; for service providers of all kinds who, every day, protect our countrymen and react with extraordinary courage when duty calls. It will be an hour of reflection for people of all ages for the blessings of liberty we enjoy, despite our nation’s many challenges, and a return to the momentary feelings of sympathy, charity and unity that marked the fall season of 2001.
At the conclusion of the program, we’ll sing together a song that celebrates our rich American heritage and reminds us that freedom is indeed something to sing about.
I look forward to spending this “Hour of Remembrance” with you.
The “Hour of Remembrance” is a free event at the INB Performing Arts Center on Sunday, September 11, at 7 pm.