Eighteen years ago yesterday, our nation bared witness to the devastating terror attacks of September 11th, 2001. Nearly three thousand Americans were killed that day on U.S. soil—a nearly unimaginable number of lives cut tragically short and families left behind by this act of cowardice and hate. Though these memories are painful, it’s important we never forget that fateful morning. In the days, weeks and months following the deadly 9/11 terror attacks, we have mourned the loved ones we lost. We have also become stronger as a nation in our shared resolve to move forward and rebuild in their memory. Instead of giving into fear, we rebuilt stronger.
I was the junior senator from Delaware and a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee at the time the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Immediately following the attacks our nation, including our committee, responded in a big way. We brought to bear the entire weight of the federal government and our military. We established the 9/11 Commission, which endeavored to answer some of the most painful questions we were all asking ourselves in the aftermath of these attacks and in Congress, we worked together in a bipartisan way to pass major laws based on the commission’s recommendations. It was shortly after 9/11 that we created the Department of Homeland Security – a federal agency with one critical mission: to ensure that our homeland is safe and secure from terrorism and other threats to our nation. Together as a nation, we took extraordinary measures to make sure something like this could never happen again.
This past weekend, I joined my colleagues on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, formerly known as the Governmental Affairs Committee, to visit the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York and reflect on the progress we have made and the challenges that lie ahead. Together, alongside my son Ben, we observed physical remnants recovered from Ground Zero. From the beams that held the Twin Towers, to Ladder Three, a fire truck that New York’s brave first responders drove toward the crumbling Towers, we were reminded that in the immediate aftermath of these horrific attacks, Americans came together as one nation.
The next morning, we held a hearing in Foundation Hall of the 9/11 museum, where the base of the South Tower once stood. Joined by three former Secretaries of Homeland Security — Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano, and Jeh Johnson – we held a moment of silence to honor the victims of the attacks, the first responders who selflessly rushed to the scene, and those who continue to serve our country at home and abroad.
Then, we looked forward. I sat side by side with my Democratic and Republican colleagues, and we discussed how we can better secure our homeland today and in the future. We reviewed the Department’s progress in implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to date, and what still needs to be done. We identified ways we can improve our preparedness to guard our nation against evolving threats, including homegrown terrorism, the increased prevalence cyber attacks, and the damaging effects of climate change. Behind us throughout the hearing stood the Last Column, a 36-foot tall, 58-ton beam that supported the weight of the South Tower – a stark symbol of loss, unity and remembrance.
On this anniversary, I am reminded of the Latin phrase that adorns our nation’s seal, ‘E pluribus unum,’ which means ‘Out of many, one.’ We may all come from many different places, but we are one nation. In the immediate aftermath of one of the darkest days in our nation’s history, we came together as Americans and truly became one. With solidarity, we resolve to never forget.