–by Leslie Adlam
Tuesday began as just another clear, crisp Indian summer day at the United States Capitol. Little did I know as I arrived for work around 8:45 am what this day would bring.
I was the Legislative Director to Congressman Frank LoBiondo on the 2nd Floor of the Cannon House Office Building. After the first plane hit the World Trade Center, I had an eerie feeling and took a walk down the hall, headed outside toward the coffee shop in the basement of the Capitol. The one Capitol Hill policeman seated at the entrance on Independence Avenue seemed to be asleep and unaffected by the news reports.
As I walked across the east front Capitol lawn I looked ahead in shock, as all of the doors of the building flew open and people began to emerge like birds being released from a cage. Several black SUVs rolled up to the covered driveway and quickly removed First Lady Laura Bush as well as Speaker Hastert.
By this time, I was close to the Capitol steps but was told by Police to move back and get as far away from the Capitol grounds as I could. For the next hour, I stood on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court along with the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and several other Members of Congress, all clueless about what was happening. Police sirens were continuous, and National Guard trucks began to arrive on our street in full force. A lone messenger on a bike who was trying to deliver his lobbyist’s document to the Rayburn House office building was tackled by Guardsmen because he used some expletives when his bike was blocked in the middle of the street. A small street fight ensued but quickly was subdued. I witnessed what seemed to be a surreal filming of a Hollywood movie right in front of my eyes. We stood there and waited for almost two hours, as both of the New York towers fell to the ground. The Pentagon was on fire, and our government’s fate was unknown. The U. S. Capitol was frozen in time as our legislative branch of government came to a chilling halt. We knew there was still another plane in the air; we did not know if it was headed for the dome of the Capitol.
As the events of the day continued to unfold, I remembered that just two weeks ago I was traveling with my boss to New York for a tour of the NY/NJ Port Authority, which included lunch in the Oval Room of the World Trade Center. We were given official visitor badges in the WTC (which I still have) and a complete briefing on the security enhancements put in place since the bombings back in the 90s. Our hosts for the day were killed on September 11th.
I realize now how very lucky we were as a nation that our Capitol is still standing today. What I witnessed was a horrible tragedy, but could have been far more horrific if Flight 93 had not been taken down by its courageous passengers.
I remained at the Capitol after the members of Congress and one staff member were allowed to re-enter the buildings. Later that day there were several conference calls from the Speaker, who had been whisked to an off-site location. My boss joined other members on the Capitol steps to sing “God Bless America” and show the world that our Congress was still in place and the U.S. Capitol still standing.
The mandate and challenge to secure our nation from future terrorist attacks was underway. Access to the U.S. Capitol would be changed forever.