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‘We Were All in It Together’

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Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Former Rep. Earl Pomeroy recalled the solidarity 9/11 provoked: “That night we gathered on the east steps of the Capitol. It was Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate — it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

“My press secretary had a brother in the New York City police force, and she hadn’t been able to get a hold of him all day,” Pomeroy said. “At the end of the day she got a call that he was OK, but it was all very emotional. We were dealing with staff members on a personal level, while trying to respond to constituents back in North Dakota about the broader implications of a situation we didn’t understand. We were gathered at the home of a staff member who lived a few blocks away, watching CNN like everyone else.”

Despite all of the chaos on the Hill that day, one of Pomeroy’s most vivid recollections was the solidarity the tragedy provoked.

“That night we gathered on the east steps of the Capitol,” he said. “It was Republicans and Democrats, the House and the Senate — it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. There were two features to it that I remember — it was this sense of unity we felt as Americans and the sense of resolve that we were going to deal with this. Those feelings were palpable. And then, of course, we sang ‘God Bless America.’”

But that moment of respite was brief, and the emotional effect of the attacks intensified as stories of the thousands of lives that had been affected began to circulate.

“There was already this sense that something horrible had occurred, but that sense became deeper as we learned more about the Americans we lost that day and the desperate grief of their families,” Pomeroy said. “In North Dakota, we lost [bond trader] Ann Nelson on the Cantor Fitzgerald trading floor. She was a wonderful young woman who I never got to know, but I found out later from her family about this bright light that was tragically snuffed out. Spending time with these grieving families really draws you in on a more personal level.”

Pomeroy’s emotions caught up with him that weekend as he returned home.

“I hadn’t cried the entire week,” he said. “But I was driving to the airport, just trying to deal with the chaos and grief and horror from that week. On a bridge over the highway, I passed some people with a bedsheet that said ‘God Bless America’ in salute to the passing cars, and I just lost it. That literally made me break down and weep about how badly we’ve been hurt, the losses we sustained and how we’d all come together because of it.”

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