Special Reports

House, Senate remember Sept. 11 victims with tears, resolve and gratitude

WASHINGTON — Congress lifted its voice in sorrow, anger and even song Wednesday in tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and in gratitude to the heroes of Flight 93, who lawmakers believe saved their lives by downing their aircraft in Pennsylvania.

A year ago, House and Senate members stood in stunned confusion outside the Capitol looking at the black plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon across the Potomac River, an image that stayed with many of them.

“For many of us, the emotions and shock, the disbelief and horror we experienced as individuals and as a people and a nation are still fresh,” said Sen. George Allen, R-Va.

On Wednesday, lawmakers visited the site of the Pentagon attack for a memorial service with President Bush. Upon their return to the Capitol they praised last year’s heroes, remembered the victims and vowed vengeance on the terrorists who caused so much death.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas could barely hold back his tears as he promised that America would forever pursue the perpetrators.

“Let me just say to those of you who are still out there plotting and scheming: Do not underestimate our American heroes,” said Armey, R-Texas. “They are young, they are bright, they are strong, they have courage and they will in fact bring you down.”

Lawmakers later recreated their own moment of defiance to the terrorists, with House and Senate members singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol.

Only hours after being forced to evacuate last year, House and Senate members returned to the Capitol to send a message to the terrorists that they wouldn’t be intimidated. After listening to defiant speeches by the House and Senate leaders, the gathered politicians burst into song.

On Wednesday, they sang again, with some members waving American flags this time in tribute to the day’s heroes and victims.

“I think ’God Bless America’ has become our national song. Not the national anthem, but the national song,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. “As we gather again today as members of Congress on the steps of the Capitol and sing it as we did on Sept. 11, joined together ... perhaps today it will become officially so.”

For some lawmakers, the day was about remembering the heroes of Flight 93, whose passengers and crew have been hailed as heroes for struggling to take back their hijacked plane from four terrorists.

Two al-Qaida fugitives told satellite station Al-Jazeera that the Capitol was the fourth American landmark on al-Qaida’s Sept. 11 hit list.

“Today is a day to remember how fortunate we all are to be alive,” said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., as he and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., led House members and workers in a moment of silence across from the Capitol.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called on Congress to immediately give the passengers and crew its highest honor, congressional gold medals. Legislation for Flight 93’s honor has been held up in Congress, Specter said.

“It has not moved because of the interest of some in expanding it to cover other victims, the firefighters, the police and others, and I certainly think that it be appropriate to grant recognition to all of those people. But I think that the victims of Flight 93 are in a special category because they saved the Capitol,” Specter said.