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 ongoing war in Afghanistan; 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.
We reached out to some of Alabama’s leaders to find out where they were when they heard the news. Do you remember where you were?
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley
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. Twelve 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:
On this anniversary we pause to honor the memory of the fallen and the sacrifices of the civilians, first responders and military personnel who gave their lives for their countrymen. Indeed, but for the heroes on Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, the Capitol may have been destroyed and hundreds of lives lost.
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.
U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus:
On 9/11, I was in my congressional office preparing for the day’s session. At what now seems like the same moment, I saw the World Trade Center towers fall on the television while, from the windows of the Capitol, we could see smoke billowing from the Pentagon. What I also remember is the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93, which was taken down over Pennsylvania, because many believe that plane was headed for the Capitol at a time when Members and tourists were gathering in the House chambers for the beginning of the session. Twelve years later, the victims of 9/11 and their families remain in our thoughts and we owe gratitude to our troops for the sacrifices they have made in protecting our safety and freedom.
U.S. 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. Twelve 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.
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard:
I was in my office at the Auburn Network. One of my employees, Al Mason, popped his head in my office and told me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I asked if it was a small plane, an accident, or for any details, and he had none. Everyone in the building went to the main broadcast studio and watched on TV as the second plane hit. It was a sickening feeling and I remember the shock on everyone’s face. We were in a special legislative session that day that started at 1 p.m., so I drove to Montgomery listening all the way to the radio reports of what was going on. When I pulled up to the State House, it was eerie because of all of the security surrounding the complex. By the time I arrived, we knew that it was a terrorist attack and that the Pentagon had also been hit. I remember a sense of uneasiness because no one knew the extent of it all. At the beginning of the session, I had requested that my pastor and close friend, Dr. George Mathison from Auburn United Methodist Church, be allowed to deliver the opening prayer on September 11. It was a blessing to have someone so dear to my family and me delivering the prayer at such a frightening time for all Alabamians and Americans. I remember Dr. Mathison delivered a very serious, very solemn prayer as we started our work in the House. We went about our business that day, which was the right thing to do for the people of Alabama, but I’m pretty sure no Member could entirely focus on legislation that day.
Alabama Attorney General 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.
Alabama State Sen. Arthur Orr:
I remember well September 11, 2001. I had just taken a job in Decatur after returning from working for several years with Habitat for Humanity in Asia. My wife was expecting and due at anytime. It was a beautiful day in North Alabama when a co-worker told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center. No one thought of terrorism while we huddled around the t.v. watching the smoking tower. But when the second plane hit and reports of other hi-jacked planes started coming in, terrorism became the obvious motive. My son was born the next day and I recall being in the delivery room with the television on as the rescue efforts began. We thought there would certainly be survivors in the mound of rubble. There weren’t any. Holding my new born son for the first time in the midst of so much loss and destruction being shown on television, I thought to myself, “‘What kind of world will he grow up in?”
Alabama 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.
Alabama 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.
Alabama College GOP Chair Stephanie Petelos:
I was in 5th grade and didn’t find out about what happened until after school. I remember the teachers acting odd. A lot of kids got checked out. My teacher had us all write “9-11-01” on a sheet of paper and told us we’d remember today forever. All the kids were really confused until we got home. My neighbor’s mom met us at the bus stop, which she never did. She had clearly been crying. She told us what happened, but we didn’t really understand. I don’t know when the weight of what actually happened hit me, I guess that night while watching the news and talking to my parents. I hope kids my age and younger who don’t have vivid memories or understanding of the 9/11 attacks can still remember this day and how much it changed our country and the world.
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