As the time approached for me to chair the opening of the House of Representatives, I left my office and proceeded across the street to the U.S. Capitol. I noticed a large plane flying past the dome of the Capitol at a very low altitude. I thought it seemed odd that the plane would be in airspace near the Capitol. As I proceeded into the building, the Capitol Hill Police were running down the hallways yelling at people to exit the building because an airplane was approaching with intent to crash into the U.S. Capitol.
A small group of members of Congress and a large group of congressional staff stood on the east side of the building. A few minutes after gathering, we heard the sonic boom noise and subsequently saw the huge plume of black smoke bellowing across the sky over Washington. The third plane had hit the Defense Department across the Potomac in Virginia. As we learned later, that plane was headed for the White House but missed its target.
Our cell phones were disabled, we could not get in our offices, so we were told to go to our homes or apartments and wait further word. The following day we received word that any members of Congress still in Washington, and almost all members stayed particularly since all airports in the D.C. area were closed, were to gather with the Congressional Leadership on the Senate side of the Capitol. I joined my colleagues on the Senate steps. The Congressional Leaders made it very clear to all gathered and to the world, the government would not shut down. The Congress would immediately proceed with legislative business. It was a powerful message of resilience. Following this message, the entire group of House members and Senators spontaneously began singing “God Bless America.”
As I reflect and remember, I am still very sad about the 3,000-plus lives that were lost in New York at the twin towers, on airplanes at the Pentagon and Shanksville, Penn. Plus, the first responders in their efforts to save lives sacrificed their own. I discovered that there was one young man from Peoria, 23-year-old Charles “Chip” Chan. Chip lost his life working on the 105th floor as a trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. I made contact with his family and offered my condolences.
As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I realized very quickly how inadequate our intelligence was regarding these terrorists living in the United States, taking flying lessons in Florida in preparation for committing the worst terrorist attack in the history of our country. I knew as a member of the House Intelligence Committee our intelligence gathering agencies had to do so much better. I was proud to serve on a House Senate Joint Intelligence Committee to review how the events of 9/11 could have happened and make recommendations to improve the intelligence community’s ability to identify and prevent future international terrorist attacks.
I supported President Bush and our Congressional leaders in strengthening our intelligence gathering resources and reorganizing federal agencies to better coordinate our intelligence capabilities.
My final reflections are to state again how sad I was on 9/11 for so many Americans who lost their lives. I also reflect on the unity in America, of all Americans, coming together in a bipartisan and a bicameral manner with which we put in place new laws and new safeguards to protect our country. Many of these laws, organizations and resources have enabled our country to prevent and stop another major terrorist attack. We will never forget Sept. 11, 2001. GOD BLESS AMERICA.