Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I was sitting in my high school U.S. government class when a school administrator burst through the classroom door, startling everyone and imploring the teacher to turn on the television immediately. “Everyone pay attention,” she said. “You’ll never forget this.”
She had no idea how right she’d be.
From Saddam’s ouster to the 9/11 attack in Benghazi; from the Patriot Act to the NSA scandal; from “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon” to “The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda” — every significant crisis or achievement my generation has experienced has been viewed through the lens of 9/11.
Everyone has their own personal 9/11 story. We reached out to some of Alabama’s leaders to hear theirs.
Sen. Richard Shelby
I was walking into my office Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, when I learned that the first tower had been hit. Right away I remember thinking that it was no accident. A few minutes later, the second tower was hit. We had to evacuate the Senate office buildings immediately. They were concerned that the Capitol would be the next target. We learned after the second tower was attacked that they had also crashed into the Pentagon. Then I knew this was a serious, coordinated attack. At that time, I was Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, so I was getting all types of calls from various national security officials that morning.
It was a very sad, sobering day. I knew it was the beginning of a lot more to come. [Fifteen] years later, we’ve come a long way in our fight against terrorism, but it isn’t over. I am always concerned about another attack. We must remain vigilant.
Sen. Jeff Sessions
None of us will ever forget where we were on that day the world changed forever. I was at the Supreme Court when the Pentagon was hit. The Chief Justice received notes from staff and reluctantly, it appeared, adjourned the meeting. I walked back to my office with the Capitol building to my left. Aircraft were flying over the Capitol. Soon the Senate office buildings were evacuated.
It was one of America’s darkest hours. But in the depths of that darkness we witnessed the strength and resolve of a nation that refused to yield or bend in the face of terror.
Rep. Martha Roby
I remember turning on the television and seeing the horror unfold. I went to college in New York (NYU), and what I saw on television was just too real. I had friends who still lived in the city who I immediately called to make sure they were safe.
But I also remember how the American people responded with unity and determination to defend this land, and defend one another. How we were truly one people rallying around each other and not letting our differences get in the way of what we had to do. [Fifteen] years and two wars later, we are a weary, divided nation. But I hope one day soon we can get back to that uniquely American spirit of unity and togetherness that throughout history has helped make us the exceptional nation.
Sen. Luther Strange
I will never forget the morning of September 11, 2001. I was in Washington in a meeting on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and the Capitol. The Pentagon had just been hit when I joined the evacuation of the city.
State Sen. Clay Scofield
I had just begun my junior year at Auburn University when 9/11 happened. I got in my truck after class and heard that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York. I rushed home and turned on the television just before the second plane hit. I couldn’t believe it.
What I remember most about that day was when the first tower collapsed and Dan Rather couldn’t say a word, he just sat in silence. I think that’s how every American felt at that exact moment — utterly speechless. I personally was in disbelief that this was happening. I still remember the instant deep sadness that I felt for the victims and their families and the intense anger that I felt toward whoever had carried out that horrendous act on my fellow Americans. Over the next few days I remember being very proud of the intense patriotism that my fellow students showed and the resolve that they had in their hearts for justice.
State Sen. Cam Ward
I was flying on a US Air Flight into Washington DC during the entire attack. We were escorted by fighter jets to Parkersberg, WV. We landed and I could hear all of the cell phones in the overhead compartment start beeping with messages from our families back home. We had no idea what had happened until the captain came back in the cabin to tell us terrorists had attacked the US and we were grounded. I ended up finding one of two rental cars in the airport and driving back to Alabaster that night.