Two weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, former Congressman Jim Davis stood at ground zero – the base of what was once the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City. As he watched the burning embers, he said he felt anger for the first time since the terrorist attacks occurred.
In an interview with The Oracle, Davis, the keynote speaker at Friday’s 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony, said the USF event was one of few times he has reflected on the Sept. 11 attacks. Davis, who was working on Capitol Hill the day of the attacks, shared his experiences with attendees.
The sky was crisp and blue when he arrived at work, he said. He and his colleagues discussed health care, education, intelligence and defense.
“The word homeland security meant nothing to us,” he said.
Within hours, images of the attacks flooded the TV and Capitol Hill was evacuated. Outside, Davis was told the Pentagon was under attack. He immediately looked across the Potomac River toward the Pentagon. All he saw was smoke.
“I went to a press conference unlike any I had ever experienced,” he said. “The press stood in front of us – about 50 or 60 members of Congress – and they said, ‘Gentlemen and ladies, it looks like the country has experienced a massive intelligence failure. What do you have to say?’ We were frozen. We had nothing to say. At that particular moment, I felt like I was part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
Peter Boogaard, deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said national security has undergone many changes since then.
“Over the past decade, we have expanded information sharing with a full range of partners; strengthened transportation security and the screening for weapons and explosives; improved cyber-security and the protection of critical infrastructure; bolstered the security of our borders; and improved emergency preparedness and response by providing grants and training and exercises to states, cities and communities across the country,” he said in an email to The Oracle.
Julio Rodriguez, a senior majoring in pre-med and a member of the color guard who attended the event, grew up with those changes to U.S. security.
He said he was 11 when he saw the “invincible bubble of America” pop.
“I didn’t really understand everything about it at the time, because I was a little kid,” he said. “But it did leave the impression on me. I always have that thought in the back of my head, ‘Be cautious and suspicious.'”
For Davis, students “play a part in making sure a horror like this never happens again.”
“People can do what governments can’t in helping build bridges across cultures, and countries and religions,” he said, “at home and abroad.”
USF President Judy Genshaft, who was attending the funeral of former USF Athletic Director Lee Roy Selmon at the time of the ceremony, addressed the importance of bridge building in the aftermath of Sept. 11 through a video presentation.
“Hatred and prejudice between people and cultures only leads to unspeakable destruction of innocent lives,” she said. “As students, you are learning to live and work in a diverse and globalized world. I hope these lessons stay with you and serve you well when you are most needed. We show in our deeds we have not forgotten those who have perished.”
The 5-month-old granddaughter of Director of Veterans Services Lt. Col. Larry Braue was among those who attended the ceremony – one member of a generation Braue said will continue to be educated on the impact of the terrorist attacks 10 years ago.
His wife, Staci Braue, said the topic will not be hidden from her.
“I think it’s imperative that all young people know what happened on that day, know why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again,” she said. “It is history.”
USF News Manager Vickie Chachere was a reporter with the Associated Press on Sept. 11, 2001 – a day she intended to spend covering a story about then-President George W. Bush’s visit to a Sarasota school to talk to children about the importance of reading. While she was there, someone whispered into Bush’s ear – the nation was under attack.
“I’d never been more terrified in my life,” she said. “We didn’t know what was happening. We knew we were with the president, but we didn’t know if the school was under attack.”
That night, Chachere went home with a different story than originally planned and had a conversation with her husband, who is also a journalist.
“We went through this really traumatic, terrible event,” she said. “When you go through an experience like that, the aftermath is that you find your moments of clarity about life and what you want in life.”
That night, they decided by the end of the year they would conceive a baby. Ten years later, the press pass Chachere wore to cover the president’s visit is pressed into her son’s baby book.
Her son, now 9 years old, is still not aware of 9/11. She said that is a conversation for another day.
– Additional reporting by Diedra Rodriguez