I suppose every generation has that moment in time that everyone remembers exactly where they were. For the WWII generation it was Pearl Harbor. For the next generation it was when President Kennedy was shot. For my generation it was Sept 11. And I remember it clear as yesterday.
The National Commander was scheduled to deliver his annual testimony before Congress, over on the House side of the Capitol. But I had gotten up early to accompany our National Executive Committeeman Bill Christofferson on a trip to visit with Senator Hatch of Utah to discuss the Flag Amendment. The meeting started around 8:45 as I recall, and nothing was amiss at the time. In fact, it was a pretty gorgeous day in DC. We were having a great meeting when suddenly 3 men burst into the room and grabbed Senator Hatch and whisked him out. Literally in the middle of our talking. We followed them out into the office just in time to see the second plane strike the second tower. We saw it on CNN that the office had on their television. Everyone just stood around watching in horror.
Mr Christofferson and I went outside to head over to the House to see what was going on. As we were crossing behind the Capitol Building people began streaming out of the Capitol. From what I know now it is clear that everyone figured out we were under attack and they must have set off alarms in there. I remember one guy tumbling down the long steps in the back, and losing his glasses. One lady stopped to help him.
Mr. Christofferson turned to me and sort of wistfully smiled and said "You can run if you want to son, I can't move any faster." It was surreal to see so many people just fleeing in terror. I said, "No sir, I'll stay with you." We reached the House of Representatives building (I think it was in Canon) and found pretty much bedlam. Obviously the testimony wasn't going to happen, but as we were milling around someone came in and said that the Pentagon had been hit.
Not sure if the plane that went down in Shanksville would have hit the Capitol or the White House if those brave men and women hadn't have fought back, but I'm grateful every day since that they did. Either way, we headed back to the hotel to watch more of this unfold. I sat there with about 500 men and women of the American Legion who had all served in a period of war, and it occured to me then that so did I, since I was still in a Guard Unit in Leesburg, VA at the time. I started calling everyone I knew to see if I was supposed to report, but the phone lines were mostly down.
Eventually I talked to Commander Ray Smith who had decided that he and his North Carolina Delegation were going to head home. They wanted to be with their families, and DC was obviously a disaster. Even though Leesburg wasn't even close to where he was going, he offered me a ride out there. So, we packed in a van and headed out. What should have been a 10 minute trip to get over the river to Virginia took nearly 3 hours.
I didn't know it then obviously, but the events that morning would take me eventually literally half a world away, to Afghanistan, a country I had been fascinated with since I'd been old enough to read. There was something so rugged and austere about the country that I had always wanted to go. When the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas in March of 2001 I had been incensed that someone could simply destroy a thing of beauty that had existed for almost 1,500 years. And after the attacks I would be sent out to help stop the men that had done such a horrible thing.
This morning Hot Air had up the video of the first 3 hours of CNN live from that attack. It's amazing to watch it and think back:
The NRA has a great tribute to the first responders as well:
So, where were you when you found out we were at war?