By Sen. John Thune
I was in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001. I remember stepping out of the congressional office buildings and looking west down the National Mall toward the Pentagon. Black smoke was billowing from the horizon. Members and staff were fleeing from the Capitol building. A deep and heavy sense of fear blanketed the city. That’s when everything we had seen unfolding on television suddenly became real. America was under attack.
As we all tried to process what was happening in real time, I recall wondering, was the Capitol next? What about the White House? We didn’t know it at the time, but, as America would later learn, thanks to the heroic action of the everyday heroes on United Flight 93, both locations, and likely targets, were spared.
At one point in the day, I spoke to my youngest daughter, Larissa. She, like most Americans, had two seemingly simple, yet pointed questions: Are we safe? And are we going to get the bad guys? I was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives at the time, but in that moment, I knew I was answering her questions as a dad and as an American citizen: Yes, we’re safe. And yes, we’re definitely going to get the bad guys.
In the days and weeks that followed, America was united. We were united in our grief. We were united in our anger. And we were united in what it meant to be an American.
In one of the more symbolic moments in the wake of these attacks, I recall when former President George W. Bush threw the first pitch at Yankee Stadium ahead of game three of the World Series. He took to the mound, bullet-proof vest under his jacket, to chants of “USA! USA! USA!” He looked around the stadium, wound up, and threw a perfect strike, right down the middle of home plate.
As the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City since noted, “This moment preceded one of the most extraordinary and needed wins in the Yankees’ history. Although they would lose the series, winning each of the three contests at Yankee Stadium signaled to the city and to the world that life would go on.”
As America began to rebuild, there were many signals that life would go on – signals that America would never forget.
The world will never exist quite like it did on September 10, 2001. But if there’s a lesson we can carry with us about September 12, 2001, and beyond, it’s that there is far more that unites us than what divides us. We’re Americans. We celebrate the diversity that makes us unique. We don’t let adversity get the best of us. We learn, listen, and grow. We know that while we may disagree from time to time, we’re always stronger together than when we’re apart.
While nearly two decades have passed since the 9/11 attacks, we still have not forgotten. We never will. Let’s continue to honor the legacy set by the brave Americans who died that day and those who rose to the occasion when their nation needed them the most.