WASHINGTON — Two days after the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, congressional leaders and members from both chambers on Capitol Hill gathered Monday on the East Front of the Capitol for their own ceremony.
“As we recall the tragedy, infamy and heroism of that day, we better understand that freedom isn’t free. We remember how the pain united us, so that we knew that we were not hyphenated Americans, but one people,” Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black said in offering a benediction. “Lord, infuse us in these contentious times with a similar spirit of oneness, inspiring us to work for the well-being of all people.”
The heroism of the passengers and crew aboard Flight 93 on the morning of 9/11 is always a particular focus of people who were on Capitol Hill that day, since it has been long believed that the Capitol itself was the target of the fourth hijacked plane, which instead came crashing down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
“As the stories of September the 11th began to be told and heard, one thing became clear. In the long run, that evil day would not only be remembered as a time when America was briefly laid low. No, that day and the days that followed, we also showed the world how the greatest country in the world sticks together, stays strong and stands back up,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. “When routine flights became deadly weapons, ordinary passengers used their final moments to save more innocent lives, and quite likely this Capitol.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited a warning from a young Abraham Lincoln, long before he would become president.
“President Lincoln cautioned against the silent artillery of time ... harsh artillery of time, eroding our memory,” the California Democrat said. “Today and always, we renew our vow: Time shall not dim the memory of our fallen heroes. We pray that the years might ease the pain of the bereaved, but never the luster of the deeds of the fallen.”
The Capitol ceremony was smaller than in some prior years, as the Senate would not be returning to session until later Monday afternoon, and the House has a committee business week, but is otherwise not in session. The brief ceremony, which featured remarks from the top four congressional leaders, concluded early Monday afternoon with the singing of “God Bless America,” led by members of the U.S. Army Band, Pershing’s Own.
That song has become an unofficial part of the Capitol’s observance of 9/11, and dates back to the evening of 9/11 itself, when members and leadership gathered on the East Front just hours after the attacks.