The gathering of nearly 300 members of the Senate and the House of Representatives was held in Federal Hall, the place where the first Congress convened, and where the first president, George Washington, was inaugurated in 1789. The building is just a few blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.
The chief speaker was Vice President Dick Cheney, whose position also makes him president of the Senate. He recalled New York’s brief history as the nation’s capital. He said a member of Congress at that time reminded his colleagues that the entire world would be scrutinizing the progress of America’s unique form of government. “Although this city was the nation’s capital for only a short time, from those early days the eyes of the world have continued to be on New York. One year ago, this great center of history, enterprise, and creativity suffered the gravest of cruelties and showed itself to be a place of valor and generosity and grace.”
Cheney noted that the vast majority of the approximately 3,000 people killed on that day died in New York, and he summed up the meaning of the special congressional session: “Here, where so many innocent lives were suddenly taken, the world saw acts of kindness and heroism that will be remembered forever.”
Terrorists hijacked four jetliners on 11 September 2001. They flew two into the two towers of the World Trade Center. A third plane attacked the Pentagon in Washington. A fourth, apparently headed for another target in Washington, crashed in a rural area of Pennsylvania. It is believed some passengers fought the hijackers of that plane.
Also addressing the New York session was Representative Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri), the House minority leader. Gephardt said that as the United States pursues its war on terrorism, Americans must remember that the victims were people from all professions and trades, people of all faiths, people from the entire political spectrum.
“In this great and faithful struggle, there are no Republicans, there are no Democrats, there are only Americans. None of us — no matter how long we live or what else marks our time — will ever forget 11 September.”
Gephardt and other members of Congress spoke repeatedly of the heroism and open-heartedness of New Yorkers in helping those whose lives had been forever changed by the attacks.
But one speaker dwelled on the sheer number of people killed in a single attack at a single place. He was Billy Collins, the poet laureate of the United States. Collins read a poem, titled “The Names,” which he had written especially for today’s ceremony. It listed only a small fraction of the names — names that reflect the ethnic diversity of New York and the rest of the United States: English, Irish, Hispanic, Slavic, Italian, Arabic, Jewish, German.
In his poem, Collins expressed regret that there were so many names that no one could be expected to pay proper tribute to all of them.
“Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory, So many names there is barely room on the walls of the heart.”
Today’s special congressional session was followed by the ceremonial laying of a wreath at the site of the attacks.
On 11 September, there will be special ceremonies of remembrance in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. President George W. Bush will visit each of the three attack sites, and that night he will address the nation from New York.
The White House says the president’s remarks will include expressions of sorrow for the victims, praise for those who fought to save lives, and his determination to defeat terrorism.
— Andrew F. Tully – Radio Free Europe
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