With the same sense of unity that pulled Congress together after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, members of Congress from both the House and Senate gathered on steps of the Capitol tonight to pay tribute to the victims and heroes of the 9/11 attacks.
Congress was not in session Sunday during the 10th anniversary. Instead, many members traveled to their home states to participate in local events marking the date, and to New York, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon to attend ceremonies.
“The 11th of September will always be a day of remembrance,” House Speaker John Boehner said. “It is up to we who live on — particularly we who serve — to ‘never forget,’ to never yield, but to hold fast until we have preserved the blessings of freedom for those who come after us. If we are successful, no one will have to tell them what to do. They will know, and they too will ‘never forget.’”
Tonight was reserved for a moment of silence and the annual Congressional tradition — the singing of “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol — a sight recreated from the spontaneous rendition of the patriotic tune the night of Sept. 11th in 2001.
“Here 10 years ago we reaffirmed in our own way that our commitment was for freedom and democracy — that’s what makes America the greatest nation in the world,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of that moment. “Little did we know then the effect that [Maryland Senator] Barbara Mikulski suggesting to us, members of Congress here assembled, that we would sing ‘God Bless America.’ We did — the sweetest song I ever heard.”
Reid said the only reason that Members of Congress could share that experience in 2001 was because of the courage of the heroes on board United Flight 93.
“The plane was headed here,” he said. “We’ve learned since then the ringleader of that evil band had made a decision that it would be the Capitol, not the White House, because it was a much easier target. That night we didn’t know that when we met here, but we know it now.”
“It was clear what needed to be done. No one had to tell them. They saved countless lives. They steadied our country before a watching world,” Boehner said.
Holding small American flags, hundreds of lawmakers sang along this evening while the Marine Corps band played “God Bless America,” 10 years after Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol to sing the song a cappella.
“For many of us, the nightmare first began to dissipate a little bit right here on these steps,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of that night’s impromptu singing. “When even the fiercest of political adversaries found themselves standing shoulder to shoulder singing ‘God Bless America’. And the terror of the morning began to yield to a spontaneous expression of unity, and to the collective belief that, yes, we would get through this as a nation.”
Each of Congress’s four top leaders delivered brief remarks, touching on the themes of unity, patriotism, remembrance and progress that characterized the 10-year anniversary ceremonies last weekend.
“Every day is a day that we are indebted to our first responders, to them at that time, but every day since, to our service members and their families, to all who work to keep us safe,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “We know that God has truly blessed America with the service of the men and women in uniform wherever they serve, our first responders and all who keep us safe in our country.”
Noting that this is the first anniversary without al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden being alive, McConnell said that even though it has been a tough decade, the nation is stronger today than it was 10 years ago.
“The attacks of 9/11 inspired an entire generation of new heroes, who’ve done extraordinary work, and whose perseverance has made it possible for us to mark this anniversary, for the first time, knowing that the man behind 9/11 will never plot again,” McConnell said. “I don’t suppose there was a single person in this country that morning who thought we’d be able to stand here today, 10 years later, and say there hadn’t been a single major attack on our homeland since then.”
Boehner also credited the men and women of the armed forces, who continue to fight to protect the country from further attacks.
“Our war fighters took up the charge and now persevere in tough conditions. Having felt the call to serve on Sept. 11, many carry the names and pictures of people they’ve never met, and never will. No one asked them to do this. Their valor inspires. And they save lives every day,” Boehner said as he began to choke up. “No burden compares to that borne by the families of the fallen. Yet, when vigilance is needed most, it comes first from those who have lost the most. No one has asked this of them — no one expects this of them. We are blessed to call these men and women ‘fellow Americans.’”