Congress Says Horrific Memories Still Fresh
WASHINGTON – The theory that United Flight 93 was headed for a bloody rendezvous with the U.S. Capitol before it crashed into a field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11 was not lost on participants in a congressional memorial Wednesday.
"It is a day to remember that this Capitol would have been struck a year ago today but for the heroism of the people on the flight that went down in Pennsylvania," said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., as he and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., led members and staff in a moment of silence across from the Capitol.
"Today is a day to remember how fortunate we all are to be alive," Gephardt said.
In the Senate, both minority leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., majority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and others delivered commemorative speeches on the Senate floor.
"Those who are responsible for that horror and all those who shelter them, finance them, abet them, encourage them or reward them, should understand this: America's most important rebuilding is not the shattered wall of the Pentagon or the scar in the earth now in New York City, but what we have restored in the past year cannot be measured in granite and steel, or even grassy knolls, as in the case of Pennsylvania," Lott, whose daughter's birthday is Sept. 11, said.
"I think we have rebuilt a wall of resolve, of determination, of steady purpose. We have renewed trust in our leadership and in one another. We've been able to find a way over the past year to come together and get a result. That is determination, and a steady purpose. We have renewed trust in ways that I hope will stay with us for a long time, and we've rediscovered in our shared sorrow the power of a truly free society to overcome the enemies of freedom," he said.
While Lott's comments were delivered with steely resolve, members of Congress remembered the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks through tearful memorial services and speeches at a flag-draped Capitol.
Congress also partook in some official business, honoring the victims and heroes, praising the servicemen and women on the front lines and re-committing to the war on terror.
By the end of the day, the House passed the resolution 370-0 before members took to the Capitol steps to sing "God Bless America," a repeat of a spontaneous eruption that occurred one year ago.
"9/11 will forever be our national shorthand for all that we have witnessed, all that we have experienced on that day and the days following. That is what we remember all across America today. The terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center thought they could shake the foundation of this country. They didn't understand that the foundation isn't concrete and steel, it is our people. It is our commitment, our commitment to freedom, to our democracy and to each other," Daschle said before the Congress broke out into its chorus.
Last week, two Al Qaeda fugitives told Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera that the U.S. Capitol was designated as the fourth American landmark on Al Qaeda's Sept. 11 hit list. Abu Zubaydah, a top Al Qaeda leader in U.S. custody, however, told interrogators that the White House was the fourth plane's target, U.S. officials have said.
Many lawmakers believe that the terrorists had planned to crash United Flight 93 into the U.S. Capitol before passengers on that flight fought the hijackers and subsequently took down the plane, which crashed into a meadow in Shanksville, Pa., killing all on board.
On that day, the U.S. Capitol in the heart of Washington, D.C., was evacuated, and House and Senate members stood shocked outside looking across the Potomac River at the black plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon, where American Flight 77 had successfully ripped through the building's massive western side, killing a total of 189 people.
"For many of us, the emotions and shock, the disbelief and horror we experienced as individuals and as a people and a nation are still fresh," said Sen. George Allen, R-Va.
On Wednesday morning, 70 members of Congress joined President Bush at the Pentagon for a memorial service before returning to the Capitol for their own day of remembrance.
The Senate and House shut down at noon to jointly hold a moment of silence for the victims in the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania. "On this day, we remember. We remember as we will every year on Sept. 11, those tragic events that our nation experienced," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., almost burst into tears Tuesday as she brought to the Senate chamber some of the pictures of the 54 Californians who died in the attacks. All of the planes that crashed Sept. 11 were on their way to California, and Boxer, tears welling up in her eyes, said each of the victims should be remembered in the Senate history books.
"If I cannot get through this, I will put it in the record," she said, taking deep breaths and struggling through the list.
Meanwhile, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called on Congress to immediately give the passengers and crew of Flight 93 its highest honor, congressional gold medals. Legislation for Flight 93's honor has been held up in Congress, Specter said.
"It has not moved because of the interest of some in expanding it to cover other victims, the firefighters, the police and others, and I certainly think that it be appropriate to grant recognition to all of those people. But I think that the victims of Flight 93 are in a special category because they saved the Capitol," Specter said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report