- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

As the first anniversary of the savage attacks upon our nation nears, I am reminded of a series of events that transpired on a very special day. I am not referring to September 11, but the day that directly preceded it.

Sept. 10, 2001, will go down in history as the last day of a period of what President Warren G. Harding characterized as "normalcy." He was speaking of the time between the end of World War I and the Great Depression that was characterized by the absence of world crisis and conflict. Our period of normalcy marked the decade between the end of the Cold War and the start of the war on terror. The last day of that era was Sept. 10.

That Monday, I joined President Bush at the Washington NavyYard. Prime Minister Howard of Australia was the special and honored guest in a ceremony marking the friendship between our two countries.

This occasion culminated with the ceremonial return by the United States of America of a ship's bell to the people of Australia. This bell had seen its share of combat in the South Pacific. It served as a fitting symbol of an alliance between countries that has spanned more than a century, through two world wars and the Cold War.

That was on Sept. 10.

On September 11, our world changed forever. I won't repeat the sorrows of that day in this limited space. All who read this have their own memories.

On Sept. 12, Mr. Bush came to the Pentagon. He arrived about 6:00 in the evening with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, and others. He met that evening with the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the service secretaries, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

That evening, the Pentagon was still burning. We could still see and smell the smoke. We did not yet know how many people had been killed in the Pentagon or at the World Trade Center or in a field in Pennsylvania. People were still missing and unaccounted for. Our military personnel around the world were on alert, and we were certainly on edge in Washington.

The president walked in. We could see by his face and demeanor that the man we knew as the chief executive of a country at peace had become its commander in chief at war. He told us to get ready. It would be a war not against a people or a religion, but against terrorists. Mr. Bush emphasized it would be a long, difficult war, but that the United States would prevail. We have to prevail to secure the future for our children and our grandchildren.

The president then went around the room, looked each of us in the eye and said, "Never forget," as he pointed to each of us. He said, "I want you to know that I will never forgetthe events that happened yesterday. The nation will go on because the nation has to go on; people will need to get on with their lives. But I will never forget, and you can never forget, because we are charged with the safety and security of the United States and liberty and freedom around the world."

I know that I will never forget what happened September 11. I also will always remember that I spent the last day of "normalcy" in the company of the man who now leads the world as we defeat the forces of terror.

Gordon England is secretary of the Navy.

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