- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

It was a perfect fall morning on Capitol Hill. The bright, yellow sun warmed the stark, white pillars of the Capitol and the green grass on the Mall. Only fleecy, white clouds marred a clear, azure sky as Washington began another busy day.
Congressional staffers were milling through the Capitol's endless corridors, lobbyists were studying position papers, congressmen began considering appropriations bills and a 9:30 am press conference was set to start just below the steps of the House of Representatives on the east side of the Capitol.
That's where I was, waiting for a press conference on sludge dumping into the Potomac. Dark reports of the plane crashes at the World Trade Center towers had already begun to make the rounds, but other than the initial report, no one was really certain what had happened.
Then a cameraman spoke up. He said that he had seen the horrifying footage of a plane crashing into the tower. Disbelief became horror and rage. The press conference began anyway — astonishingly, it even started on time. Yet heightened, agitated conversations continued to cloud the background.
Then, suddenly, a shadow darkened the sky — a large, silver jet flew overhead, its wings glittering over the Capitol dome. Jets aren't supposed to fly over the Capitol. No aircraft is. Yet for a few minutes, that simple, wildly significant fact didn't even register among the attendees.
Then it did. The background buzz became a full-throated roar. Sirens shrieked through the still air. Someone said that the Pentagon had been hit. No smoke could be seen, but suddenly, no one doubted that it was true. Jets screamed across the sky, and the press conference was left in shambles, even though no one had any idea where to go.
Some started to the far side of the Capitol, looking for smoky fingers reaching out from the tomb that the Pentagon had shockingly become. Others reached for cell phones, desperately reaching out to assure, or to find, friends or loved ones.
As the realization set in, the evacuation began. The police began ordering people off the Capitol grounds, and the palpable fear in the air became ordered walking — and panicked running. People flooded out of the exits — staffers carrying folders, lobbyists holding briefcases and tourists clutching packages.
Yet they didn't run far. Once they were off the Capitol grounds, many stopped, standing in the shade by the Library of Congress, trying to figure out what had happened. Those who weren't trying to somehow resurrect dead telephone lines gathered in small groups, hoping to figure out what had happened and who was responsible. Rumors singed the air — New York was a disaster, a helicopter had hit the Pentagon. Planes had been hijacked. Bombs had gone off across the country …
Suddenly, a second explosion ripped through the air, apparently a secondary blast from the Pentagon. The fear that confusion had somehow covered became palpable once more. Sirens again shrieked through the air. The explosion was not near, but it was loud. And it was here. The police began moving everyone away from the Library of Congress, and they moved. But no one ran — most didn't even hurry.
Pearl Harbor was on everyone's mind — as were creative suggestions for the punishment for those responsible. "Turn it into a parking lot" was the most popular suggestion.
Amazingly, seemingly minutes after one of the worst events in the Capitol's history, Washington business began to assert itself. Journalists continued to scribble. A few cameras snapped. Reps. James Moran and John Murtha gave informal press conferences — until they decided to go to lunch — on the Hill.
No one I talked to was even thinking about running. Tourists were planning on finishing their tours. Rookie journalists planned on filing their stories, and then reporting for work the next day. A few congressional staffers said that they would be back at work — even if they had to do it in a coffee shop.
It all made sense. The faceless cowards who attacked the nation's citizens did not shake its foundations.
It's worth remembering that the Statue of Freedom was placed atop the dome of the Capitol while the Republic was in the agonies of the Civil War. The Capitol's pillars stand firm because they are supported by the citizens of the Republic — in Washington, in New York and in every city and town across the United States.
Those citizens will recover from yesterday. They will rebuild and remember. And their Capitol will stand, a monument to the ideals they embody.

Charles Rousseaux is an editorial writer and a Commentary editor for The Washington Times.


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