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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.”

“Something’s going on, this was planned, and I’m not sure what exactly is going to happen next,” he remembered thinking. So he got on the phone and called around to offices, trying to figure out the next step to take. No offices were sure what was going on, and the Capitol Police offered no guidance.

Then the phones went dead.

“There was no dial tone. It was complete silence. That’s when I realized: It was every man for himself, there were no more instructions to be given, no more contact to be made,” he said.

Napolitano’s chief of staff gave the OK to get out of the office, and Chao remembers walking into a silent hallway.

“There was quiet, everyone was just kind of walking out as fast as they could, but there was no panic,” he said. There was no panic, he explained, because nobody really understood the enormity of the situation.

Chao and his friends walked down the Mall to catch a bus to his place. He said there were tourists lazing on benches on the Mall, obviously oblivious to what had just happened. The bus they tried to take moved only two blocks in 15 minutes, so they got out and walked to his house, spending the rest of the day there glued to the television.

When they emerged to grab lunch, Chao said they encountered an empty D.C.

“Most of the people who didn’t live in D.C. had already evacuated. It was eerily quiet — a ghost town,” he said.

The next morning, still unsure, Chao headed to work and pushed the attacks out of his mind.

“I was busy because we had to get back to work,” he said. “I never questioned it. It was just the thing to do. We had to get back to work and get on with our lives.”

Rebecca Ross
“It was terrifying, but that’s what courage is.”

Well, it got then-Rep. Gary Condit off the front page of the newspapers.

That’s the silver lining Rebecca Ross, currently a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, remembers from the events of 9/11. As an executive assistant for then-Rep. Joel Hefley (R-
Colo.), her office was down the hall from Condit, a California Democrat who had been in the news all summer for his affair with a missing intern who was later found murdered.

“On Sept. 10, I said to our press secretary, ‘What’s it going to take to get Gary Condit off the front page? God only knows ...’” she recalled.

And then, on Sept. 11, America suffered a terrorist attack, and talk of Condit was no more.

That morning, Ross had carpooled into her office early with her father, who also worked on the Hill. They chatted about the weather and the fact that a celebrity had planned to appear at the Capitol. In the office, she sorted mail and prepared Hefley’s schedule for the rest of the day.

“We were watching the news, and I just thought the first plane was an accident, that the pilot was having a heart attack,” she said. But when the second plane hit, it was obvious that America was under attack.

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