Tuesday, September 11, 2001. When friends and family have asked me over the years to recount for them that day and week I spent in D.C.—I was stranded in our nation’s capital because no commercial airlines were allowed to fly immediately after 9-11—I still struggle to fully describe what I saw and felt that day. It was unlike any other day of my life and I’m certain I’ll always feel that way.
On 9/11, I was in Washington, D.C. with the late Clyde C. Holloway, former U.S. Congressman and Louisiana Public Service Commissioner. We were there to try to build support from members of Congress we knew for our campaign for Congress. The day began uneventfully. We had spent the night at a hotel in Crystal City, Virginia which is only a few hundred yards from the Pentagon. That day we woke, had coffee and Mr. Holloway left for the first meeting of the day while I stayed behind to organize.
Sometime in the next 10-15 minutes or so, I heard a roar. The sound startled me. I walked out to the parking lot of the hotel and looked across the way and saw black smoke billowing from a corner of the Pentagon. Shortly thereafter, there was an exodus of terrified-looking people from the Pentagon into Crystal City. After this panic, D.C. was locked down. D.C. was so eerily still, so dead, that I have imagined we would have to go back to our nation’s founders and their horse-drawn carriages to find a time the City was so silent and unmoving. All I saw was black military helicopters hovering in different places over the City and fighter planes circling high above. There were also black suburbans with black-clad men brandishing serious looking weaponry out of the windows.
I was numb; unnerved and disconcerted. Watching the TV video of the planes hitting the North and South towers and then seeing the towers collapse was an experience that neither I nor any American could ever forget. I struggled to comprehend what had happened so near me and across America that day. I had also been stressed and nerve-wracked to know that my older brother, Tom, who served as Legislative Director for U.S. Senator Jon Kyl at the time, worked in the Senate Hart Office Building and, had the Capitol sustained a direct hit as we have since learned was the terrorist’s plan, he would have been in grave danger.
As the day wore on and the sun began to set, I was able to walk some distance closer to the Pentagon. The gaping hole in the building burned brightly and would for days, emitting a large acrid plume of smoke. When night came, and as the emotion of the day weighed heavily on me–and the stench and the smell of the foul night air bombarded my senses and burned my eyes–I was reminded of images from Dante’s Inferno. I also remember being struck by the sense of a loss of innocence and security–that America would never feel as safe or impenetrable again.
9/11 is indelibly imprinted in my memory both because of the evil that is reflected in such an act–with over 3000 American lives tragically lost–and because of the powerful sense of patriotism and unity that did then exist—and must again exist—in our great country when we stand together.
However, who could have ever predicted that 20 years later America would be led by a stunningly incompetent, ineffectual president who just abandoned thousands of Americans and our Afghan allies to face virtually certain death at the hands of the Taliban and who has gifted $85 billion in military hardware to the Taliban, which will now be used to kill those same Americans and our allies left behind.
As we all know, the Taliban is the government of Afghanistan that allowed Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to plan and prepare to attack our country on 9-11; now, in a painful irony, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the Taliban plans to celebrate their self-proclaimed victory over America in the United States Embassy in Kabul. Take a moment to prayerfully reflect upon the magnitude of this American tragedy. America deserves better than this. President Biden should be deeply ashamed for the great dishonor his cowardly leadership has imposed upon the patriotic men and women who have bravely protected our homeland.
On this day, and on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, I say a simple prayer in gratitude for those who have suffered and died on our behalf–and remind myself to strive to be worthy of their sacrifice. I include in my prayer the hope that America may find a way—without a tragedy—to again be as united as we were then.
Royal Alexander is a Shreveport-based attorney.