By John J. Duncan Jr.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in my office in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington when Bert Robinson, a member of my staff from Athens, opened the door and told me to turn on the television because a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.
Just as I turned on the TV, a second plane crashed into the building. In the first few seconds, many people thought it was the first crash just shown from a different angle. It was just too hard to believe two planes were involved.
A Capitol policeman came to our office telling us to evacuate. I told all my employees to go home. There was a report that a car had exploded in front of the State Department. This turned out to be false.
There was a boom in the distance. Soon it was reported that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon.
Hallerin Hilton Hill, the Knoxville radio host, called and started interviewing me over the phone.
My wife heard the start of this interview and immediately called my office. Scott Fischer, the only employee who had not left yet, came in and said “Lynn called and said to tell Jimmy to get out of there!”
During the brief interview, a Capitol policeman came again to make sure we were gone. I was the last to leave.
As I drove out of the Rayburn Garage, there must have been a couple of hundred federal and Congressional employees standing around outside, many looking to the sky.
As I drove to a house we then had in Alexandria, I went past the Pentagon. I will never forget the sight of the Pentagon in smoke and flames with TV trucks filming from the nearby interstate.
Soon there were reports about the crash of flight 93 in Pennsylvania, apparently caused when the passengers tried to stop the hijackers. Most people thought that plane was headed to the Capitol or the White House.
A short time later, since I was unexpectedly at home, I took a suit to the cleaners and got lunch at the drive-thru at McDonalds. This was in an area called Arlandria, just two or three miles from the Pentagon.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and it was amazing that almost everyone I saw was going about things just like it was a normal day. But it was far from normal and was a day that brought about drastic changes in the country.
A couple of days later, I attended a memorial service the Congress held on the grounds of the badly damaged Pentagon for those who had been killed.
One year later, I rode in a special train to New York City to attend the first session of Congress in over 200 years held outside Washington in a building next to the World Trade Center.
I believe that was the same day that I heard a report on NPR that over 3,000 companies and lobbying firms had already registered with the federal government as security companies.
It is sad that we have now spent hundreds of billions on security over the last 20 years that could have gone toward curing cancer or many other things.
This spending has been both by government at all levels and by almost every private company. A Fed-Ex official once told me that their company had spent 200 million on security in the year after the events of that terrible day that they would have ordinarily spent on something else.
Much of this spending has been very unnecessary. Former Congressman Sonny Callahan from Alabama once told me we did everything we really needed to do at the airports simply by locking the cockpit doors.
Unfortunately, it seems there are always a few who get rich off of almost every tragedy.