Standing near Pres. Barack Obama at the site of the World Trade Center a week ago to mark the death of terrorist Osama Bin Laden, Rep. Steve Rothman recalled another time he had stood there with another president.
Rothman thought of the time when three days after the terrorist attack in September 2001, he had stood at the same spot with then President George W. Bush. At the time, it was a place filled with rubble and dust.
“This was Sept. 14, 2001,” Rothman said. “I flew up with President Bush’s party [from Washington, D.C.] On that day, we were all in shock, and the atmosphere and scene [were] chaotic. There were towering piles of remains and material including twisted steel and metal with flakes of the contents of those two towers still filling the air like snow flakes.”
“What I saw this week is what I saw in President Obama from the start.” – Rep. Steve Rothman
“He declared to the world that all Americans were on their knees in prayer for all the victims of 9/11 and their families,” Rothman recalled. “He also pledged on behalf of our nation to bring to justice the perpetrators of the murderous acts of 9/11.”
Not quite 10 years later, Rothman said that promise was fulfilled with the help of President Obama.
The nearly completed reflecting pools at the former WTC site mark the footprint of the former Twin Towers, and will be a memorial tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who perished on Sept. 11, 2001.
And now, the terrorist believed to be behind the attacks has been killed by American forces.
A close ally of President Obama, Rothman was among the few legislators invited to attend a special wreath-laying ceremony a week ago. He, along with Rep. Bill Pascrell, U.S. senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, and Gov. Christopher Christie stood near Obama as part of the moving ceremony in commemoration of the victims.
Another president on a somber day
“When I arrived at Ground Zero yesterday after nine and a half years, I saw a great deal of progress had been made in taking the victims’ remains to their proper place of rest,” Rothman said the day after the event. “While a physically beautiful day, bright sun and a nearly cloudless sky was nonetheless filled with tremendous sadness and seriousness.We were, I felt, standing atop the gravesite of nearly 3,000 Americans and other human beings who were victims of Osama Bin Laden and his accomplices.”
While moved by Bush’s commitment and determination to find justice, Rothman said the qualities that attracted Obama to him as a presidential candidate three years ago came through over the last week.
“What I saw this week is what I saw in President Obama from the start,” Rothman said. “Those qualities were demonstrated in his commitment to bringing Bin Laden to justice.”
Rothman, however, said this was a team effort that has been ongoing throughout several administrations, including President Bill Clinton. Through the use of military intelligence and the ability of special forces, Bin Laden had been brought to justice.
Obama’s coming to the WTC a few days after Bin Laden’s death was a statement on the president’s commitment to America and the common purpose the people of the United States have, Rothman said.
“But it is also his love of his own children and his great capacity for empathy as a father, husband, and son,” Rothman said. “In his conversation with family and especially children of the people lost on that day, every one of the victims [commented] on how personally they felt touched by President Obama, and how genuinely the connection and understanding from him gave them such a great sense of contentedness and relief, even for those brief moments.”
A few local legislators joined Obama
More than 700 residents from New Jersey died as a result of the attack, and thousands of others fled the site in terror on the day of the attack.
“I had a chance to speak with one of the spouses of one of the victims who died in the towers,” said Rothman, who would not identify the woman except to say that she was from New Jersey. “Her children and the daughter of another victim were standing at her side. I told her that the loss of her husband and all the other victims were still, for myself and other Americans, a wound that will never close and is a painfulness that will never leave us.”
Rothman said she seemed grateful for his words, but he also understands that her life and the families of the other victims have been difficult.
“The losses suffered would affect her, her family, and extended family forever,” he said. “I did ask her how the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death had affected her, and if at all. She said her children, whenever they saw a Bin Laden photograph, were filled with fear and anxiety and that she hoped that with his death, there would be some relief in that regard for her children. I spoke to the children standing next to her and as a father myself of two kids and I suppose as a New Jersey congressman, I told them this evil man has now been killed by American armed forces, and that he will never hurt anyone ever again.”
Sires remarks about the death of Bin Laden
Rep. Albio Sires, who was not at the Obama ceremony, released remarks about the death of Bin Laden a week ago.
“From the banks of the Hudson River, I watched in horror as the skyline of New York City was attacked and thousands of Americans lost their lives in a heinous plot orchestrated by Osama Bin Laden,” Sires said. “Sept. 11, 2001 changed our lives and our country forever. After a long search, Osama Bin Laden has been brought to justice. While the losses suffered that tragic day will never be forgotten, I hope the families of the victims are able to find some amount of comfort and closure in his capture.”
Sires called the hunt to locate and kill Bin Laden “a true achievement” and commended the military and intelligence community.
“As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Foreign Affairs Committee, a former mayor of a small town directly across from Manhattan, and, most of all, as a citizen of this great nation, I also want to commend the women and men who fight for our freedom every day,” Sires said.
Rothman said vigilance will not stop.
“All of our law enforcement, military, homeland security, and intelligence agencies are pursuing every lead and every bit of evidence 24-7 to prevent another 9/11 and building upon what has been learned since that date, both in terms of the enemies’ capabilities and our own lessons learned about how to secure our nation to the maximum extent possible,” Rothman said.
But life must go on.
“I would encourage all my neighbors throughout New Jersey and America to go about living their lives and enjoying the freedom and opportunity that so many have died to provide,” he said, “to make sure that they every day hug their children and tell all their loved ones how much they mean to them.”