SHAHEEN: 9/11 A STORY OF COURAGE, RESOLVE, AND UNITY

September 07, 2011

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate today in advance of the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Below are her remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“Across the country this weekend, Americans everywhere will gather to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the tragic events that took place on September 11th, 2001.  Families from every town, city, and state will mark this day in their own solemn way and take a moment to remember and honor the nearly 3,000 victims of those senseless attacks. 

“More than any episode in recent American history, the events of 9/11 were experienced on a very personal level all across the country.  No one was untouched by the tragedy of that day.  All of us can remember exactly where we were when we first heard the news.  We can remember those frantic hours as we tried to call loved ones. We remember the silence in our skies, as our nation’s entire air system shut down. We remember mourning the loss of family, friends, and neighbors. We remember the fear and uncertainty as we wondered if more attacks were coming.  And we remember the sight we all watched on television, again and again, the sickening sight of the falling towers. It is a vision that has been seared – perhaps forever – into every American’s mind.

“As Governor of New Hampshire at the time, I was actually here in Washington for a National Governor’s Association event on education.  I will never forget looking out from my hotel to see the smoke rising from the Pentagon. 

“The attacks of 9/11 forever changed us as a nation.  Our entire notion of security was turned upside-down. Our government changed, our policies changed, and our view of the world changed. For our children and grandchildren, especially, this became one of the defining events of their generation and has left an indelible mark on their worldview.

“As we gather this weekend, all of us in our own way will take a moment to recall those feelings of sadness and anger and to honor the memories of those we lost.  But that loss is not the end of the story. And grief is not the true legacy of 9/11. We are not defined by what happens to us, but by how we respond when faced with adversity. September 11th did not cripple us as a nation. Instead, it brought out the best in all of us.  Our story is how we responded in the face of this attack – with courage, resolve, and unity.  In the aftermath of 9/11, we showed the world the true meaning of the American spirit.  

“The story of America’s response to 9/11 starts on that very day with accounts of heroism that we could never have imagined. We remember the firefighters and other first responders climbing up the stairwells of the burning World Trade Center while others fled down, and how they paid the ultimate sacrifice for their selflessness. We remember the courageous passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, who took away the terrorists’ greatest weapon – fear – by fighting back even though it meant their lives. Who knows how many lives they saved when they stopped that attack?

“In the days that followed, all Americans stepped up in any way they could. Red Cross centers were overwhelmed with volunteer blood donors. Millions of us donated money and offered up prayers.  In New Hampshire, days after the attack, I joined a crowd of hundreds for a prayer service at St. Paul’s Church in Concord. We came together to honor the victims and comfort each other, and the response was incredible. The crowd spilled out into the street – many waving American flags, holding candles and singing “God Bless America.”  

“In New Hampshire, our state government and our employees refused to buckle under the terrorist threat, and we kept the state working on September 11th.  I will not forget the more than 100 fire departments across the state who called our state Fire Marshall’s Office to offer their services for assistance in New York or the countless physicians, rescue workers, and Red Cross volunteers who made themselves available to help at a moment’s notice. 

“And of course, we cannot tell America’s story without telling the story of the men and women in our military who have spent the last decade trying to make sure that an attack like this never happens again. 

“Since 9/11, more than five million men and women have voluntarily joined the armed forces to protect America and defend her freedom abroad.  More than 6,200 Americans, including 37 troops from New Hampshire, have given the ultimate sacrifice in our nation’s defense.  Over 45,000 more have been wounded or injured and returned home with lasting scars. Millions of troops and their families have sustained the toughest, most debilitating tempo of deployments in our nation’s history – often being deployed into war five or six times, enduring constant mental and physical strains in service to our country. 

“The resolve our troops have demonstrated since 9/11 has yielded a string of successes on an extremely complex battlefield.  Our men and women in uniform have done everything that has been asked of them.  Osama bin Laden has been brought to justice, countless other high-level terrorist operatives, including the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, have been killed or captured, and the organization’s bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan remain under constant pressure. Al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates’ deadly ideology is being questioned around the globe. And the remnants of al Qaeda’s diminishing leadership are disorganized and struggling to re-establish themselves in the face of an aggressive U.S. offensive.  As our current Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, has remarked, we are, quote, ‘within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda.’  Although we cannot be complacent, and we must remain steadfast in our pursuit, our military should be honored for the gains our nation has made against the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. 

“In New Hampshire, our Air National Guard deployed almost immediately after the attacks, and every day since September 11, 2001, have been providing persistent air refueling coverage for the homeland defense and for our commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I will forever remember walking through the Manchester Airport with a New Hampshire National Guard contingent the day flights resumed after 9/11.  As we walked, people everywhere stopped what they were doing to applaud them for their efforts to keep the people of New Hampshire safe. In the decade since the attacks, Americans have found new appreciation for the service these citizen soldiers provide.   

“And Americans outside the military have learned that they have a role to play, too. With the heroes of United 93 as their inspiration, every-day Americans have stopped a number of terrorist plots from succeeding. Passengers and flight personnel stopped the December 2001 bombing attempt of shoe bomber Richard Reid and the Christmas Day 2009 attempt on board the Northwest Airlines flight. The attempted Times Square bombing last year was in part averted by an alert New York City street vendor.   

“Perhaps most importantly, as we remember America’s 9/11 story this weekend, we should all reflect on the unity we demonstrated in the face of this terrible attack.  On September 11th, we were not Republicans or Democrats, black or white, rich or poor. We were all Americans. The attack focused our attention on our common bonds and on the American ideals we all hold dear. We were determined to prove that despite our differences, the United States of America would persevere and endure. While we have not always maintained that sense of unity in the years since, our memory of it has inspired us and continually reminded us of what is possible when we reach for the best in ourselves.

“When the history books are written and America’s 9/11 story is told to the generations to follow, I hope it will tell of how we came together to remind the entire world of what this country stands for and who we are as a people.  How after our darkest day, we rose up with new determination. How instead of turning inward, we chose to confront the evil that had visited our shores and to fight on. And how we continued to be the beacon of hope, liberty, and opportunity that we have always been to the world.”

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