I Remember

NOTE: This piece was first posted in RealClearPolitics five years ago. You can read the original here: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2011/09/09/remembering_911_111259.html

I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday.

I remember walking into a staff office half a world away and watching the beginning end on a small TV screen. I remember watching grown men cry.

I remember being ashamed that I’d been at Wendy’s eating a hamburger when it had started. I remember asking myself who ate Wendy’s in Tokyo.

I remember trying to reach my girlfriend who worked at the White House to make sure she was okay. I remember cell phones at home not working.

I remember getting through to my parents to let them know I was okay. I remember being told they needed the phone line before I could tell them I loved them one more time.

I remember the Secret Service crowding the hallway in front of a Cabinet member’s hotel room. I remember that as many of them as I knew, I’d never seen that look on their faces.

I remember staring at CNN, drinking every ounce of liquor in a hotel mini bar and smoking countless cigarettes with men who started the day as my friends and ended the day as my brothers.

I remember being told by the embassy to stay in our hotel because they couldn’t guarantee our safety. I remember how lonely that felt.

I remember hearing it might be weeks before we could get home. I remember being told we might have to take a boat to Hawaii because the US might keep its borders shut indefinitely.

I remember the long, eerie bus ride to an American air base. I remember the kindness the Air Force showed us. I remember getting a bill for the room I slept in and thinking how silly that seemed.

I remember how big, cold and empty the back of a C-5 cargo plane is. I remember the flight home across the Pacific was the longest 10 hours of my life.

I remember landing in California and the Air Force, to their credit, trying to figure out what to do with us. They drove us to every airport in the Bay Area before they found us a flight home. I remember how grateful I was to them for their help.

I remember landing at Dulles Airport and seeing my girlfriend at baggage claim and that moment was as safe as it was fleeting. I remember the surreal drive back to Washington. I don’t remember the conversation in the car. What could we have said?

I remember the piercing whine of fighters flying over the capital all night. I remember the night they stopped.

I remember flying to Chicago in secret to set up the President’s first event outside Washington since that day. I remember the first time I’d ever seen Marines guarding an event site and the look on their faces.

I remember standing on the top step of the Yankees dugout as an American President took the mound. I remember cheering as loudly as the fans as he threw the perfect strike the country needed.

I remember seeing the hole in the New York skyline from a helicopter as we flew to Kennedy Airport. I remember the ride home from New York that night on Air Force One and how proud and resolved all aboard were.

I remember how normal seeing an anti-aircraft battery in a Crawford farm field became. I remember asking myself how such a thing could ever seem commonplace.

I remember thinking Toby Keith was the greatest living American songwriter for capturing the anger, fear and pride so many of us felt; even if Peter Jennings didn’t like it.

I remember that field in Pennsylvania. I remember how lonely a place it was. I remember how many bits of shiny metal still remained on the hallowed ground. I remember finding a plastic ‘remove before flight’ tag in the wild grass.

I remember laying out hay bales one afternoon. I remember coming back the next day and finding a shrine. I remember a little girl’s letter making sure that Uncle Joey knew he was her hero.

I remember crying my eyes out as I drove out to Shanksville the morning of the first anniversary.

I remember the sound of Taps echoing over golden wheat as we stood with the hundreds of family members of the heroes of the first battle of the War on Terror. I remember what strength they showed.

I remember the tears running down the face of the military aide as he stood at attention, a wreath in his hands, as the families filed by.

I remember watching a bad TV show on a Sunday night when an American President announced we’d found who we’d been looking for all this time. I remember the relief and satisfaction. I remember hoping that maybe we’d finally start the last chapter of this book.

I remember.

We remember.

We will never forget.