Last week I viewed the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Back home in Arizona, many of us have seen the devastation on our television sets and heard it described to us by commentators. But it is quite another thing to see it for yourself, as I did on a gray and rainy morning. That memory will stay with me for a long time.
Rubble covers a tremendous area. Cranes lift heavy beams of unbelievable twisted steel. Workers have to wear masks to endure the stench and smoke hazardous particles in the air. Sections of the once-mammoth World Trade Center – about 20 to 30 stories of the shell of the sides of the north tower – still protrude stubbornly from the shaken ground.
Surrounding buildings that survived the attack are abandoned and will require massive renovation. They can be replaced or repaired. But more than six thousands people who died are gone forever.
“My wife wants to know how he died,” said one man recently about his missing son. “Did he suffer? Was he crushed? Did he fall? Me, I just hope he didn’t suffer.”
And then there was a 13-year-old boy named Cameron, whose brother worked on the 104th floor of one of the towers. U.S. News & World Report reported that after the collapse of the building, Cameron called his brother’s cell phone, which was still taking messages. “He just wanted to talk to him one last time,” said his father. “He left a message saying he was his hero, and he wanted to grow up to be just like him.”
This tragedy has shown us many heroes – on a doomed flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, amid the glaring gash at the Pentagon, and of course those still at work in lower Manhattan. For nine days, fire fighters, police, rescue workers, and volunteers have carefully but determinedly removed more than 59,000 tons of rubble from the World Trade Center debris; there is still more than a million tons to go.
This is the aftermath of the new war of the 21st century. Agents of terror have sought out our vulnerabilities and attacked, determined to destabilize our nation, frighten Americans and turn us against each other.
But even amid the horror and despair of New York, it is clear they have failed in that mission. Resolute workers continue to work the rubble and will do so until the site is cleared. Federal state and local officials are all providing financial – and often emotional – support.
All of the Senators who went to Manhattan congregated together, Democrat and Republican, united by patriotism and shared sorrow. And that unity continued in our bipartisan support for the President when he spoke to the Congress and the nation Thursday night.
As President Bush said in his address, Americans have been called to action in a war we did not choose, but one that we will finish. “We are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom.”
This is the start down a long, difficult road. It will involve actions that may be very visible, and others that will be covert. It will require patience and determination from the American people. We may face economic uncertainty for a time. Our airline industry has been hit hard, for example, and we must come to its aid. Americans everywhere are nervous and frightened; terrorists may strike again.
But there is a strength in New York that should reassure us all.
In Manhattan’s Union Square, which has become a gathering place for mourners, demonstrators and New Yorkers of all kinds, a statue of George Washington stands proudly. His resolute gaze is trained south, to where the World Trade Center once towered over the city.
A local newspaper reported that someone had draped a poster of the Manhattan skyline around the neck of General Washington’s horse. Scrawled across it were heartfelt words:
“We will prevail.”