Everyone who was old enough to experience and remember September 11, 2001 know exactly where they were when they learned of the terrorist attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
I was in my Tallahassee office going about the usual morning work of an otherwise normal legislative committee week. Then-State Representative Mike Fasano was Majority Leader of the Florida House of Representatives. I and the Majority Office staff had a nice suite of offices on the third floor of the House Office Building. Each morning I would come in, turn on FoxNews and catch up on what happened overnight as I prepared talking points, amendments and other day-to-day tasks of the legislative process.
When the first plane hit I remember looking at the television in disbelief. One of my Majority Office colleagues, Anthony Pedicini, came running in to my office nearly shouting that terrorists had just hit the World Trade Center. I remember glancing at the television again and then following him out into the main lobby of the Majority Office. There was a large television mounted in the public area which also ran the news all day long, mostly to keep visitors occupied, as well as staff informed during committee hearings and floor sessions. People tend to gather together in times of great tragedy and this was no exception. Staffers from the various offices congregated together and just stared silently at the images being played over and over again on the screen. Then, all at once, we dispersed, presumably to contact our families, which I did.
Florida was in the spotlight once again. Less than a year before Florida was the deciding factor in the 2000 presidential election. Now, that fateful day in 2001, President George W. Bush was in Florida reading to school children when the attacks occurred.
The moment White House Chief of Staff Andy Card whispered into the president’s ear telling him about the attacks has been replayed countless times over the years and is seared in our memories, especially those of us with a direct connection to Florida. Because the president’s brother Jeb was governor of Florida at the time, the Capitol went into emergency mode. Not sure if the Capitol would be a target, Governor Bush ordered the evacuation of the Capitol Complex. Most people don’t know this but Majority Leader Fasano, like the captain who refuses to abandon ship, refused to leave the Capitol. He made sure that his entire staff was safely on their way home, and then he stayed behind to offer his assistance to the Speaker in whatever way he could.
When we did finally begin to leave the Capitol, it was a sobering sight seeing streams of humanity leaving the Capitol complex, all of us aware that the world had just changed. Not sure just in what way , we all knew in our hearts that our lives would be forever altered. Most people, like myself, who relocate to Tallahassee for our legislative duties, rent apartments, houses or find some other form of short-term housing in and around the city. I made my way out of Tallahassee proper and to the KOA in nearby Monticello, where my family and I had a cabin. Too emotional to say much we set about packing up the car for what would be a long trip home.
In a time before smartphones and computer tablets, we spent much of the trip flipping around the radio dial trying to find any bit of news that we could help us better understand the attacks. We were still on the road when we heard the president’s address to the nation that evening and my wife Nancy and I felt both comfort and conviction. Whatever one may say about President Bush, h was the right leader at the right time. His calm reassurance and resolve in the face of the most horrendous terrorist attack to occur on American soil brought us comfort, knowing that while our world did change in an instant, the United Stets of America would not take this laying down. His commitment to running the terrorists to ground gave our children a greater pride in their country and helped offset somewhat the fear and uncertainty they were experiencing.
Once we were back home in New Port Richey, then-State Representative Heather Fiorentino called together a small group of people, myself included, to organize a community memorial to the fallen heroes of 9-11. Within 10 days the first West Pasco 9-11 Memorial was held. The firefighters, police, military and civilian victims who died that fateful day were honored in what became the first of 11 years of community support and remembrance. Staying out of the spotlight, Representative Fiorentino made sure the memorial would not be used for political purposes. No elected official or candidate was allowed to speak, save the mayor of New Port Richey for the sole purpose of welcoming guests to the city. Over the years we have heard from survivors from the Twin Towers, police, fire and military members who responded that day. We heard the story of a pilot who was flying on September 11 and was forced to land his commercial aircraft when the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flight.
We heard others, each with his or her own perspective of that day and how it impacted them and the people they came in contact with. The one elected officials who did serve as a guest speaker was Governor Jeb Bush who, has Florida’s chief executive officer and always a phone call away from the president, shared how the events played out at his level of government. Every year since, but one in which we were hit a by a hurricane, West Pasco has kept the memories of those heroes alive and hopefully will continue to do so long into the future.
My oldest daughter Rebekah was 7 at the time. She wrote a poem , which was published in The St. Petersburg Times, about her feelings about 9-11. It inspired in her a gift to communicate through the written word. My other two children, Elizabeth and Joseph, were too young to understand what was happening, but they still have grown up in a world forever changed by the terrible events of that day. They each have learned how to express their understanding of what happened, whether through art, the written word, or through video
We all remember the spontaneous outpouring of patriotism that followed 9-11. Every car had a flag, every front yard had a sign. People wore red, white and blue on their shirts, hats, and buttons. It was a proud time to be an American because we were bound together by a common cause. That spirit, which is renewed every September 11, is always within us. For Americans are truly a patriotic people. Those who would steal our freedom failed that day and will fail every time they try. We are a nation of fighters who don’t take kindly to terrorism. I believe time has proven our national resolve. Thank you to the brave men and women in uniform and out who fight to keep us safe. America will win in the end. That is a guarantee.
I welcome your comments and memories of September 11. I also look forward to your questions about the Florida Legislature, state government, or any related matters. Please feel free to leave your thoughts or questions in the comment section and I will answer them in an upcoming post. If there is a specific topic you would like me to write about please let me know as well. I look forward to responding to your comments!