What a day it has been. The nation is feeling a sense of relief and I’m bathed in joy about the demise of Osama bin Laden. I know you expect me to talk about your wallet on this show, and I’ll address some of those implications surrounding this historic news event too, but I want you to know that first I feel a need for reflection as all Americans do right now.
I think back to Sept. 11, 2001, a day that started with beautiful blue skies on the East Coast and brought the unparalleled horror of terror attacks. It was my executive producer Christa who told me when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I was in the car and asking her what the weather was like; I wanted to know if it was an air traffic control error, a pilot error or the unthinkable.
That was a day that jarred our country. In the immediate aftermath, people were afraid to do pretty much anything. It was the autumn when Americans became homebodies.
I remember flying into a devastated New York via LaGuardia on the Monday following the attack. We were 18 passengers and 4 air marshals and not one of us was in our seats as we approached for descent. Everybody was crowding to gaze out the windows at the smoldering Big Apple, even the stewardesses.
I then recall going to the site of the still-burning Twin Towers. There was soot all over the walls in downtown Manhattan and particles of dust stacked kind of like snow in the area.
And then there was the supreme sense of sadness, anger and hopelessness.
But I also think back to signs of great hope that day. I recall the inspirational actions of the brave firefighters and police officers who went into those buildings in the face of grave danger to do what they could to save innocent people. I think about the person who carried a wheelchair-bound woman down the steps of the WTC to safety when they themselves should have fled. I think about the people of United Flight 93 who were the first to stand up and fight back. They did what we Americans do best when our backs are against the wall.
So when I heard the initial reports about the death of bin Laden — before Pres. Obama spoke last night to confirm it — I was bathed in all these memories from nearly 10 years ago.
Now I think of all the brave men and women in the military and spy agencies (some that are so secretive we don’t even know they exist) who believe so much in freedom and our nation as a beacon of light that they put their lives on the line. Sadly, many have died in that pursuit. We have no idea how many missions were aborted or ended in failure during prior attempts to take out bin Laden. I congratulate all on a relentless pursuit that has now ended in success.
I was so excited about the scenes outside the White House as people gathered after Pres. Obama’s announcement. Among them were college students who were 8 to 12 years old at the time of 9/11. They were there singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” off-key as we all do because it’s a difficult song, but they were out there singing and chanting “U.S.A.”
To see this collective joy across our great land was so touching to me.
In the fall of 2001, I joined my state defense force in response to 9/11. I have now served nearly 10 years and am proud to wear the uniform. It’s something I do with great gratitude. It’s my small way to contribute to the quest for our nation’s continuing freedom.
Going forward, we have to expect retaliation from al Qaeda. If something terrible happens, we have to dust ourselves off, get up, deal with it and be prepared for a fight that is not yet won. We have cut the serpent’s head off, but the body is still writhing.
We don’t know where terror might strike. Al Qaeda has shown an affinity for attacking air travelers. If you’re flying, be aware of the people and packages around you. Remember, if danger confronts you, stand up for yourself. Don’t be a victim.
As far as economic effect, we will see an initial bounce of optimism because this is such a psychologically important victory over terror. Yet we still have the hard work ahead of us to deal with our economic problems.
The afterglow of today’s news doesn’t deal with the underlying issues of weakness in our economy. But I do hope today’s events will lead to a new seriousness and bipartisan cooperation in dealing with the weakness we’re showing to world with our long-term debt. I hope we use this as an opportunity to deal with issues we can’t sweep under the rug if we are to remain in a preeminent world position.