WASHINGTON – Warm weather and blue skies set the background for Thursday's Congressional 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony,on a day that speakers said resembled the fateful day two years ago.
Members of Congress filled temporary bleachers on the west steps of the Capitol,facing hundreds of staff and passersby who stopped to pay respect to those lost in the terrorist attacks. This was the first such commemoration at the Capitol because last year many senators and representatives attended the ceremony in New York.
Speakers said they had resolved to continue business as usual,but the events of Sept. 11,2001 are fresh in the minds of many.
“It's been two years,and our hearts still ache for those lost in New York City,the Pentagon and the lonely field in Pennsylvania,” said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.
Daschle was one of six speakers who shared memories of the day and how it changed America.
Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist recounted seeing the smoke rising off the remnants of the World Trade Center towers during a trip to Ground Zero with his children. The bright yellow workers' hats and the red,white and blue of the American flag were the only colors visible among the ashen gray of the area.
“I was awe-struck at the destruction,” he said. “But the spirit of unity,compassion and community moved me then the most.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi focused on the lost heroes of Flight 93,which officials now believe was headed toward the Capitol,and how the day's events helped create a sense of national unity.
“We must do more than simply remember them,” said Pelosi. “We must honor them … united as a country,we must build a spirit where … we look at each other only as Americans.”
House Speaker Dennis Hastert recalled seeing smoke from the Pentagon from his office window and spoke about the importance of the war against terrorism.
“We are taking the fight to those who wanted to take the freedom from us,” Hastert said.
Hastert said the country will win this war against terror,quoting Winston Churchill: “We shall not falter or fail.”
Sen. Rick Santorum,R-Pa.,said he thought the ceremony was an important time to “review stock in what we have done and look at where we have come from,” while also establishing a tradition of commemorating the event.
“We thought,‘What can we do?'” said Santorum.
The hour-long ceremony ended with the Rev. Barry Black,Senate chaplain,leading the crowd in a moment of silence followed by the singing of “God Bless America,” a reminder of the pledge Congress made two years ago when members convened on the east steps and spontaneously broke into song.