Fall 2006 Edition
Text Size:

From the Heart

Reflections on September 11


In the months leading up to the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, The Scene asked readers to share their thoughts on the events of the day and how they reshaped our individual lives, molded our collective conscience, and changed the world as we know it.

More than 100 of you responded, many anxious to read the opinions of your fellow alumni. Excerpts from those letters filled the print edition of The Scene, and you can read all letters in their entirety exclusively in The Scene online. (See "Sections in this Article", below.)

Submissions ran the gamut from support for American troops to indictment of the current administration, calls to arms and calls to peace, spiritual awakening and emotional apathy, friends lost and babies born, close calls and what ifs, fear and anger, thanksgiving and hope.

It was with hope in mind that The Scene asked Lane McGaughy, Atkinson Professor of Religious and Ethical Studies, to reflect on what the events of that day bode for the future of community, culture and civilization. An excerpt from his interview appeared in the print edition of The Scene; you can access his full reflection from the menu below.

Sections in this article...

Original Article

From the Print Edition

You are reading the article as it originally appeared in print
Lane McGaughy


The sense of disillusionment we've been feeling since Sept. 11, 2001, stems from the concept of America as the new Eden. Ever since the Puritans landed on the shores of the new world, we felt like we were the new chosen people and that everything was going to work out for our benefit in the long run. The sense of disillusionment with the Puritan dream really began with the Vietnam War, when we started to feel uneasy with the possibility that history doesn't always have a happy ending. In some sense it has deflated American arrogance and made us more realistic about the tragic nature of history, and I think that's not altogether bad. We were living in the context of a Hollywood myth. The Vietnam War can be viewed as the beginning of the loss of Edenic innocence. When that loss became fully apparent, as it did after Sept. 11, we had to step back and ask ourselves how we can move forward in a situation of uncertainty, where there are no guarantees about the future. That's what we're facing now.


Moving into an uncertain future requires a kind of 'second innocence.' We have to move beyond the pessimism and acknowledge that life is uncertain, while clinging to those things that are wholesome and good in our culture, and developing those as a basis for a new kind of optimism. That's the function of culture — to provide us with the resources to move forward despite the obstacles and setbacks of an uncertain world. This is another argument for why higher education and the arts are so important. It also explains why we taught the World Views course all those years, to help students discover that every culture is the product of a particular tradition — or to put it the other way around, world views are culture-specific, meaning that the way a culture views the world is not necessarily the way the world really is in some objective sense. That's the mistake that leads to war, assuming that my world view is the only correct world view and that everyone else should view the world the way I do. Education helps young people discover that their world view is not the only way to organize culture and, at the same time, that each culture offers resources for surmounting the challenges and setbacks of history. We must discover the authentic resources our culture offers in this time of disillusionment.


We have to move beyond the pessimism and acknowledge that life is uncertain, while clinging to those things that are wholesome and good in our culture, and developing those as a basis for a new kind of optimism.

The same thing is true in the Middle East as is true in America: There are both extremists and progressives. How can we treat Muslims as if they are all the same when not all religious people in America are the same? There are various groups here and there. That's where realism and discrimination come in. The Hollywood Myth of Innocence says we're all the good guys in the white hats and they're all the bad guys in the black hats. By discriminating among Muslims, however, we're moving beyond that kind of na-vet to a much more realistic appraisal of the way the world actually is. We're discriminating between reform-minded, peaceful Muslims and violent extremists.


My hope is that people would not just become more devout in the wake of Sept. 11, but more discerning. We have people on both sides that view Sept. 11 in the context of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil. In my view, this response only adds fuel to the current conflict in the Middle East. Spirituality means being more discerning in terms of how one responds to life, including to Sept. 11.

This is where person-to-person diplomacy is so crucial. This is what has saved us from a totally tribal response to Sept. 11 — the fact that we've had so many international students in this country and so many Americans going abroad that some people here and in other parts of the world are able to discern the difference between political ideologies and the humanity we all share. Study abroad and travel is such an important element of a liberal education. I'm not thinking here of the tourist who goes abroad for a quick two-week vacation, but of those who go abroad for an extended stay and live like students, getting acquainted with local peoples and cultures, perhaps living with home-stay families, becoming guests in that culture, not simply tourists seeing the sights.

In my view, a university is not just a random collection of warm bodies. There has to be a sense of shared purpose or vision that transforms a group of individuals into a community. As faculty, we try to model what it means to cultivate the life of the mind, and how that shared purpose both creates community and affects the way we treat others and how we order our daily lives. That's the heart of a liberal arts education, and it shapes our response to the uncertainties of the world around us.

Audrey B. Nieswandt Lauzon MAT’93

Silverton, Ore.

I take my son to kindergarten in the morning, and it is the most important task of my day. On Sept. 11, 2001, the morning loomed large, grim, desperate. Fear and unease invaded the school in the taut, worried faces of the adults. I was caught up, too. I stumbled into the doors, my eyes drawn to the modest sign outlining the rules for this school:

  1. Think of others. Be kind, considerate and respectful.
  2. Be a friend. Reach out to someone in kindness and love.
  3. Accept differences. Learn as much as you can about others.
  4. Think before you act. Self-control is important.
  5. Smile! A positive attitude can change your life.

A wave of chattering, giggling children washed over me, buoying me down the hall and into the kindergarten room. It helps to know that life carries on, and that beauty and youth and joy are ephemeral yet eternal. No matter what, I take my child to kindergarten, and I know that joy and innocence still exist, that God smiles upon us all, and that the mundane in our lives will always and truly be extraordinary.

John L. Christenson ’72

Tacoma, Wash.

Sept. 11, 2001, 5:30 a.m., two resident doctors entered my Seattle hospital room, waking me up. I was in the fourth month of a seven-month hospital stay, recovering from an attack of necrotizing pancreatitis. I didn't know if I would survive.

I saw a lot of coverage regarding Sept. 11 attacks and the aftermath in the following months of hospital bed rest. The attacks and my hospital stay are intertwined in their influence on me. I realized how fragile life is.

We know that death comes to everyone, we just don't know when. With that perspective, I ask myself, "Am I prepared to die?" My Christian faith provides the foundation that I know where I'm going when I die. Sept. 11 is a wake up call for each person. Are you ready for death and eternity? I believe Jason Lee would ask the same thing.

Thomas McCloskey ’05

Portland, Ore.

Sept. 11

I stepped out of my room in Belknap to take a shower and saw something frantically written on the whiteboard across the hall. When I got downstairs, it was an eerie scene. Twenty-five people stood in silence watching CNN. Some were crying and others had their heads in their hands. My friend Jenelle, also in a bathrobe, turned to me and said something I'll never forget: "We're at war."

My college experience changed immediately. We spent an extra week covering Orientalism in International Politics and the rhetoric of religious extremists became the focus of my Persuasion and Propaganda course. Flying to speech tournaments with giant tubs of files labeled 'terrorism' and 'WMDs' was challenging. Academic responsibility, I think, is how the world changed the most after Sept. 11. Everyone now has an obligation to stay informed and debate political issues. It is no longer acceptable to be apathetic.

Rev. Stuart R. Shaw ’54

Salem, Ore.

The Sept. 11 terrorists' understanding of the people of the United States was as limited as our understanding of their world — then and now. Their attack on the World Trade Center was aimed at compromising our economy, limiting our freedoms, sending a negative message about our support for Israel, paying us back for seemingly regarding Islamic culture as second rate.

It didn't accomplish these things. It destroyed some buildings and killed 3,000 people with attendant personal and national grief. What it did accomplish was wars of retribution by our country in Afghanistan and Iraq that have killed 25 times the number of people killed in the World Trade Center. How can any sane person be happy about that?

Sept. 11 was not an act of war. It was an act of cowards misguided by a false understanding of their own religion: that the key to heaven is sacrificing your life to kill people who don't believe as you do.

Religionists get into trouble when they believe that God is on their side. Rather than killing, we need to open up dialogue with the people and nations of Islam at all levels. That dialogue needs to start with a president who is willing to learn about the history and culture of Islam and talk face to face with leaders of all Islamic nations to discover what the real human issues are, and then act, without bombs and bullets, to fashion a world peace with justice for all persons.

Monte Pescador ’93

Northglenn, Colo.

Have we learned from history? Back in World War II, the United States locked up Japanese Americans and "suspicious looking" Asians for the crime of looking Japanese. The result? Nobody was arrested as a spy and the 442nd proved the loyalty of every American locked up in those concentration camps. After Sept. 11, 2001, many Middle Eastern Americans were locked up without charges, and there they have remained.

Sept. 11 was not an act of war. It was an act of cowards misguided by a false understanding of their own religion: that the key to heaven is sacrificing your life to kill people who don't believe as you do.

After World War II, many Asian Americans were persecuted by those with prejudiced views. This apparently did not go away either. In the small town of Cortez, Colo., I experienced something I'd only heard about from my parents — unadulterated bigotry. At first the population thought I was some kind of strange-looking Indian. Then they thought I was a "wetback." After Sept. 11, 2001, it all changed. Suddenly I was someone to be yelled at, ridiculed, and spat at. Suddenly I wasn't an Indian, a Mexican, or even what I was — an Asian American. Suddenly I was a Middle Eastern terrorist.

Prof. Ted Shay once told me that an individual's thoughts were as valuable as an individual's life. What does this make the thoughtless?

I wish I could say something more political or more patriotic about the attack on America, but to me, Sept. 11, 2001, only meant another excuse for the ugliness of these United States to come out. At a time when we should have all come together, we instead found another reason to hate. Is it easier than love?

Carmen Bendixen ’98

Seattle, Wash.

This is not my first time writing about my Sept. 11 experience. Eight months after 9/11, I composed a mammoth journal entry about my day and of the traumatic days and months that followed. I wrote of how my coworkers and I fled our office in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., and how, only a month later, we were struck by anthrax. I purposely included as little emotion in the essay as possible, partly because I believe that I had cried enough tears, sensed enough fear, and shaken with anger enough for a lifetime. My 9/11 entry was a lengthy way of saying "Enough."

Unfortunately, the act of writing was not as therapeutic as I had hoped. My job as a U.S. Senate aide required a thorough knowledge of the federal bureaucracy and of how disaster assistance filtered to local agencies. The job experience was valuable to my resume but did not ease my anxiety about terrorism or our preparedness. I moved on, however, for many reasons. I left Washington and attended graduate school for a master's degree in city planning. I eased into academia, hoping to bring the Willamette motto into a competitive field. Then Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Now I commute across Lake Washington and I think of what could happen during the next earthquake. I am not by nature a fear-mongering pessimist ... but perhaps I am now.

Randall B. Kester ’37

Portland, Ore.

I wrote the following letter and it was published in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin in November 2002. The sentiments expressed by the judge in the Korematsu case, which are quoted in the letter, are even more timely and important today. And they are reinforced by the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hamdan case.

Those who, like us, were a continent away from the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, can hardly appreciate the horror and emotional trauma experienced by those who were more immediately affected. And it is impossible to express in words our feelings for those who lost their lives or their loved ones, either in the attack or in the subsequent rescue efforts. But we can be alert to the possible consequences if our government, either for vengeance or concern for security, takes measures that jeopardize the very freedoms of its citizens that we claim to be protecting.

Such actions as surveillance without probable cause, arrest on mere suspicion, detention incommunicado and without charge, denial of counsel and trial by executive fiat, bring to mind the words of a federal judge in setting aside the judgment in one of the World War II Japanese exclusion cases: "As historical precedent it stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused." Korematsu v. United States of America, 584 F. Suppl. 1406@1420 (N.D. Cal., 1984).

Dick Ludders ’67

Spokane, Wash.

I was so moved on Sept. 11, 2001, that I wrote down my feelings immediately. I put that piece of paper away and have not re-read it until your call for editorials. I wrote the following:

I can't help but wonder how the world might have been different if we had pursued peace — rather than war — with the same level of concern and resource commitment.

"9/11/01, 11:28 EDT, I've just learned of the terrorist attacks on this nation. My overwhelming emotion is sorrow. The world will change. Our world, the U.S.A. And I'm scared for how it will change. God grant us the wisdom to sort this out and do what is right without doing what our enemies want us to do."

Five years later, regrettably, I suspect we have done precisely what our enemies wanted us to do.

Barbara Benjamin Duda ’52

San Francisco, Calif.

I am old enough to remember Pearl Harbor. Of course it plunged American into World War II and changed many things, including Willamette itself. My thought at hearing about Sept. 11 was that I have remembered such horrors before. I do feel that life will go on pretty much the same for most of us. In fact, I would be willing to bet that the average student on campus today, if asked what was the significance of Dec. 7, 1941, would probably draw a blank or have to think very hard about what it meant. I rather feel the same will happen over Sept. 11 in generations to come.

Melissa (Kanzler) Grant ’02

San Francisco, Calif.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was studying abroad in Amsterdam. A group of my fellow American students gathered at a small bar showing BBC news coverage, and it was there we saw the plane hit the second tower. Shortly thereafter, the bartender changed the channel to a soccer game. We protested, but he simply said sorry and turned his back. We found another venue to watch the news together, but the general Dutch indifference was not limited to one football-loving barman. Prevailing sentiment was that there are tragedies daily around the world, and this was just one relatively small example. Once I got over my initial resentment, I began to understand. Our tragedy is not special because the dead were Americans rather than Israelis, the buildings were skyscrapers rather than transit lines, or that it was New York rather than Darfur. Violence is tragic everywhere, all the time. That's what the Dutch were trying to tell us by changing the channel.

Cyndi Kroop ’92

San Diego, Calif.

Sept. 11

On Sept. 11, 2001, I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy, Liam Andrew. He was born at 5:31 a.m. PST and the first plane hit just minutes later at 8:47 a.m. EST. A friend called my husband Marc [JD ’93] to congratulate us on the birth of our son — and tell us to turn on the television. As we watched the events unfold, we couldn't grasp the magnitude of what was occurring as I was nursing my newborn son. I knew that my employer, Marsh & McLennan Companies, had hundreds of employees on the upper floors of the World Trade Center.

One week prior to the first anniversary of Sept. 11 and my son's first birthday, I prepared to attend a meeting in Los Angeles with colleagues from offices around the U.S. I went through the list of attendees who would be at the meeting and began sobbing for those who would not. My company lost more than 300 people that day. It took a year, but I finally broke down and felt the loss of that day.

At dinner the next evening, my colleagues and I talked at length about Sept. 11, and they were thrilled to learn I gave birth that morning. We began discussing my son's upcoming birthday. I sheepishly admitted I was considering celebrating his birthday on the 12th out of respect for the mourning families and our country's tragic loss. But my colleagues were adamant that I celebrate Liam's birthday on his birthday. It would not be fair to my son to do otherwise. They were right. We were not going to change our lives because doing otherwise would be giving the terrorists exactly what they wanted.

Dave Hansen ’66

Portland, Ore.

I can't help but wonder how the world might have been different if we had pursued peace — rather than war — with the same level of concern and resource commitment.

Gary Duell, ’74, MBA’77

Happy Valley, Ore.

In my opinion, "Our lives were changed forever by Sept. 11" is one of the most absurd and nonsensical phrases in recent history. Granted, it was a horrific experience, especially for those directly involved. But we haven't changed in any material, beneficial way. If anything, as a country, as a people, we're even more self-indulgent and self-absorbed than ever.

All of us should find a way to remember that day and to support taking strong actions to ensure it never happens again — here or elsewhere. To do otherwise is to sully the memory of those who died and the people on that plane in Pennsylvania who gave their lives to save mine.

Who is aware, for example, that 2,700 children die worldwide every day of easily preventable disease and starvation? Who is aware that the U.S. spends more than 50 times as much on military activities than all the "axis of evil" countries combined? Who is aware that the Pentagon gets 40 times more money than we spend on foreign and humanitarian aid?

Our priorities, and levels of concern about them, are more out of whack than ever. Just follow the money.

Robert A. Ulrich ’53

Prescott, Ariz.

We need a reincarnation of WU's two Dr. Bobs (Gregg and Gatke) to help this new generation understand what is happening. I am concerned when elementary school social studies books cover the first 250 years of our nation's existence in 15 pages, yet devote three lengthy chapters to the divisive issues of civil rights, antiwar protesting and environment. These are important, but a better balance is required or we have converted education to indoctrination. Both Dr. Bobs warned us of that possibility when they would say, "Remember history is only what the historian wants you to believe and not necessarily what actually took place." Where is the political tolerance Mark Hatfield employed while in office?

Matt Evans ’81

Portland, Ore.

Unlike the vast majority of Americans, I was there in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, on a business trip that involved visiting the White House. The events of that day are burned into my memory with a clarity that is almost frightening. The fear and panic. The sadness. The nobility. I remember finding out about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, one they think was headed for the White House. Later I found out that some of the passengers on that plane fought back, stormed the cockpit, maybe saved my life. I owe them.

All of us should find a way to remember that day and to support taking strong actions to ensure it never happens again — here or elsewhere. To do otherwise is to sully the memory of those who died and the people on that plane in Pennsylvania who gave their lives to save mine.

Lauren Canning-Luckenbach ’87

New York, N.Y.

I work for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and live with the knowledge that my office may be a target for terrorist attacks. Working at the UN, one acquires a global perspective. There is a tragedy every day, somewhere in the world — natural disasters, disease, civil war and the unrelenting struggle of living in poverty. Experiencing a terrorist attack up close and personal made me appreciate even more the loss and fear that millions of people live with every day.

Mike McKinley ’66

Lake Sherwood, Mo.

Sept. 11 simply reconfirmed the tragedy of Oklahoma City — America's blissful ignorance of terror was shattered by the cold reality that terrorism looms in everyone's backyard and now has become a staple of life. In the Midwest, most of us heard the news from coworkers and thought the first hit was an accident. The second strike drove home reality — like it or not, our lives and life in America had been changed forever. Anyone and everything can be a target. Perhaps we believe the docile university campus is immune — I'm sure they felt the same at Columbine [High School, in Littleton, Colo.]. My life is still "normal", but each kiss, hug or shake of hands has become more sincere... Will it be the last? I'll never forget the day on campus when I heard Kennedy was shot, and I shall forever remember standing in my office hearing the chilling words about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Reality does not travel the yellow brick road.

Shanti (Spencer) McCarter ’99

Honolulu, Hawaii

I was pregnant and a week overdue, and my husband was in the middle of a six-month deployment in Bahrain. When the phone rang, I lunged to answer, not wanting to miss the chance to talk with him. "You need to wake up and turn on the TV. I don't know when I'll be allowed to call again. I love you." And that was it. With the TV on I prayed, and I still pray today for all the people affected by the attacks. But as the media and politicians began what would become an obsession with terrorism, I found that my history-teacher mind took a step back and viewed the situation more objectively.

Sept. 11

Don't we see these sorts of attacks and deaths on TV every day? Is the United States so superior that we're allowed to meddle in other people's business and expect no repercussion? And not that any form of terrorism is justifiable, but isn't it possible that our international politics and economic policies have nurtured anti-American sentiment? If, instead of beginning a witch-hunt, we decided to reflect on our own responsibilities in the event and made efforts to understand the culture and underlying anger of our attackers, how different might the future look?

The next morning, our son was born. Talk about a turning point for me... but for the U.S., five years later, we're still reacting to the shock of being vulnerable. I pray that with time Sept. 11, 2001, will mark the point when Americans began to understand their interconnectedness with the rest of the world and then began to conscientiously act out of that understanding.

Jim Stratton ’94

Shanghai, China

What started as a normal teaching day at Casablanca American School quickly became a living nightmare. As the truth of the tragedy became apparent, I began to feel a wave of tension building within me as I realized that my own country was under a massive terrorist attack while I sat in the heart of a Muslim-Arab land. Had a global Jihad been declared? What was the situation in Morocco? Would U.S. citizens be evacuated? What actions should we take for our own security? All questions without answers.

I returned to my Maarif neighborhood. Everyone in the area knew I was American. I walked to the corner shop as usual, greeted by my neighbors, and I was immediately struck by the grief and compassion in the faces I encountered. The hands I shook and cheeks I kissed seemed warmer and friendlier, as sentiments of sorrow, concern and reassurance came to me in French, Arabic and English. "My God, this is a tragedy…." "We are not like those who did this…." "You know us and we know you — we are your neighbors and friends…." In the days, weeks and months that followed, these feelings were reaffirmed. I will always treasure how Moroccans shared their love of humanity with me, a love that transcends the sociocultural groupings we all too often deem more important than our everyday encounters with the people around us.

Todd Simpson JD’95

Sierra Vista, Ariz.

I was in the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. All troops were immediately recalled onto the installation and the post was placed on lockdown to ensure that all personnel were safe and that all military assets were secure. There was a deep sense of apprehension, and preparation began to maintain the heightened security that would become a way of life. My life and the life of those around me became centered upon learning who was responsible for the attack and whether there would be a military response.

Within 12 months, I was part of a military unit training in Kuwait and living within sight of the Iraqi border. This training exercise began at the end of the Gulf War and had never stopped. We were more than 2,000 strong and were to be training in Kuwait for 180 days. On day 179 I left Kuwait. I drove my Humvee across the border into Iraq as part of Second Brigade, Third Infantry Division, headed for downtown Baghdad and a confrontation with the Medina Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard. I left where I had been living in what is now the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and returned to Fort Stewart, Ga., late in 2003.

Nothing about me and my life is the same. What I thought would be a four-year tour enlistment in the Army to help pay my student loans has turned into what is quickly becoming a career. I lost quite a few friends in the war. I lost part of who I used to be. I gained a sense of purpose, a sense of country, and a sense of community that I had never known. I am proud to have served and am proud of the sacrifices my fellow soldiers have made. What many see as in-fighting and senseless violence, to me, is the expression of a frustrated nation struggling to gain a sense of itself and its new and incomprehensible freedom.

Eric Patterson ’93

Clermont, Fla.

While it may seem to us, living in the years immediately following, that the world was irrevocably changed that day, I have to wonder if 40 years from now, people will see it as a watershed event. To my grandparents, Pearl Harbor changed the world; to me it is little more than a mark on the calendar. History has an amazing smoothing, leveling effect, and something tells me that the towers won't stand as tall in the minds of generations hence.

Pete Leveton ’59

Littleton, Colo.

I consider Sept. 11 to have been a 'wake up call' to the realities of a very unpredictable and dangerous world, far different than the one the Class of ’59 grew up in. Unfortunately, not everyone has awakened to the threat.

While some of the Bush Administration's responses are misguided, I am astounded, shocked and appalled by the large percentage of citizens who would like to 'negotiate' with those who have vowed to eliminate the United States and all of its citizens, and who would limit necessary protective initiatives in the name of civil liberties.

Sept. 11

To not authorize the administration to do "whatever it takes" is, I believe, shortsighted and could well lead to violent actions compared to which Sept. 11 would be mild.

I believe the parallel with events leading to World War II is clear, and all that is lacking for worldwide momentum of those who seek to destroy us are a few leaders who can marshal the resources and followers willing to do anything to our detriment.

I also believe illegal immigration is one of the greatest threats to our national security and that we should immediately implement the strongest means to block further illegal immigration, and then develop an effective policy to deal with the millions of illegals already in our country.

Finally, I believe our elected officials must set aside political considerations and do what is in the best interests of our country and the well being of our citizens.

Sean O’Hollaren ’83 watched the stunning images of the World Trade Center attacks on television along with the rest of America, but he was more than a spectator. On September 11, 2001, O’Hollaren was assistant secretary of transportation, serving under Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. Here is his account of that morning and the days following — a vastly different perspective. He still resides in Washington, D.C.

Having been confirmed in March 2001 by the United States Senate as assistant secretary of transportation, I began September 2001 with numerous meetings debating a varied list of transportation topics, including the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement's obligation to open the U.S./Mexico border to long-haul trucking, the fate of AMTRAK passenger rail service, highway and transit funding, and — the most pressing issue of the day — how to build enough aviation infrastructure to reduce our congested airports and airways. As we all know now, but could not anticipate on the morning of Sept. 11, terrorists ended the debate over congestion and turned all focus to security.

I stood outside the office of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta that morning, anxiously waiting for a breakfast meeting to conclude. I was to spend the next few hours with the secretary in a series of Congressional meetings in the U.S. Capitol. His chief of staff interrupted him to tell him that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Unsure of what to make of the bizarre live scene he watched on an office television, Secretary Mineta returned to the meeting, leaving instructions to keep him informed.

In my office, I called my wife. I told her to turn on the news and that I did not know the next time I would be home. A report came in that an unidentified plane was nearing Washington, D.C.

Minutes later, he called me in to show me the breaking news. Also in his office was Jane Garvey, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and a flat screen on his desk with a live image of all the air traffic nationwide. Uncertain and astounded at what we were seeing, we watched the building burn and waited for additional information. We all assumed this was a horrific accident. The secretary wanted details from the plane's manifest and transponder. What kind of a plane was it? Was it a commercial plane or a private aircraft? How many people were on board? As we watched the second plane slam into the other tower, we knew instantly that the first collision was no accident.

Secretary Mineta was summoned to the White House, where he joined Vice President Cheney in the presidential emergency operations center and immediately ordered every plane in flight over the United States to land. I cancelled his meetings and went back to my office. Rumors about other planes and targets spread through the building. Some staff had already left, and I dismissed the rest. In my office, I called my wife. I told her to turn on the news and that I did not know the next time I would be home. A report came in that an unidentified plane was nearing Washington, D.C. Sirens filled the air as the U.S. Capitol and White House were evacuated. Moments later, I received a call that a plane had hit the Pentagon. When I got to a place where I could see Virginia to the west, a black plume of smoke confirmed the call.

Secretary Mineta's actions grounding all aircraft and sealing off American airspace were unprecedented. As a result, controllers and pilots safely landed 4,836 planes in 2 hours and 12 minutes without further incident. When I returned to his office the following day, the live screen of the national traffic system was blank. I spent the following days helping to restore air traffic and manage the thousands of stranded passengers who had landed safely, but not reached their destinations. The following months were spent negotiating and creating the Transportation Security Administration and later the Department of Homeland Security, and planning for the security and safety of millions of air travelers every year. That work continues even now.