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Remembering September 11, 2001

Posted by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

September 11, 2001 was a tragic and horrible day – a day when terrorists attacked America.  I was U.S. Secretary of Labor at the time, holding an early morning staff meeting. When we first heard the news that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, many thought it must have been an accident, not a deliberate coordinated attack!  We were so innocent.  But the reality soon dawned upon us as we watched-- in stunned disbelief-- the images of the Twin Towers coming down.  We tried to reach the White House for confirmation -- but couldn’t reach anyone because they were being evacuated.  As people poured out of the U. S. Capitol, and we streamed out of DOL, we looked south toward Virginia to see the smoke rising from the Pentagon. Later we learned of the heroism of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93. 

The entire nation felt the sense of loss, and for many it was deeply personal.  The Labor Department had regional offices at the World Trade Center and on Varick Street, across from the Twin Towers. I went to New York to meet with those who had endured the worst, to comfort the families of the fallen, and to ensure that the Department was doing everything possible to assist in the recovery and cleanup efforts.  It was a moving experience.  I will never forget the courageous people I met-- police, firefighters, paramedics, other first responders, construction workers, clergy, volunteers of every kind and their families. Thanks to their efforts, the recovery effort of Ground Zero was conducted ahead of schedule with no additional injury nor loss of life.

As a former Deputy Secretary of Transportation, I understood the special role that DOT played that day.  On 9/11/2001 the FAA had to safely and quickly clear the airways of all traffic—the first shutdown of civil aviation in U.S. history.  Less than four hours after the attacks, U.S. airspace was empty of all aircraft except military and essential medical traffic.  Approximately 4,500 aircraft landed without incident, and all inbound international flights were diverted from U.S. airspace and U.S. airports.  The U.S. Coast Guard, which was part of DOT at the time, helped evacuate more than 350,000 people from Manhattan.   In the hours, days and months following the attacks, DOT helped to reopen roads, tunnels, bridges, harbors and railroads—to name just a few of DOT’s many actions. It was a magnificent effort, which many in the transportation community still admire as a benchmark for emergency response.

So on this 16th anniversary, please join me in remembering the heroes, the fallen, and the families of September 11, 2001. I will be attending the special memorial service at Ground Zero in remembrance. The tragic events of 9/11 brought out the best in our country through a spontaneous outpouring of courage, compassion, generosity, resolve and unity.  

Those who were lost on that day-- as well as the survivors, family, friends and first responders - will remain in our hearts forever. May God bless our country, especially the men and women in uniform who put themselves on the line every day to protect our freedoms.

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