Denise Grace Gitsham
THE 9/11 GENERATION
The 9/11 Generation
I’ll never forget this day, 18 years ago. I was running a few minutes late to my office at the White House, and sometime after the moment I parked in the Ellipse and before I hustled into work, the first plane hit in New York. I walked into a room full of concerned faces, all focused on the TVs in our office.
I made a few calls to friends who worked in other parts of the Administration,
including one at the Pentagon. As we prayed for our nation together, I watched the second tower go up in flames. Moments later, we were evacuated from our office on the fifth floor of the Old Executive Office Building, and we weren’t allowed to use the elevators, so we ran down five flights of stairs... in heels. I had two interns with me who had just started that week, and were understandably terrified. We ran of out the exit directly facing the West Wing, and as we went past a Secret Service member, he advised us to take off our heels and run as far from the building, as fast as we could.
Every Secret Service member we passed stared at the sky, guns ready. It was a bluebird day, which was so at odds with the darkness in our hearts. We ran to my car, and I dropped both interns off at the metro before I got onto the 14th Street bridge that would eventually get me home. By this point, Capitol Hill had been evacuated, and traffic was at a standstill. Mine was the last car to be let into the 14th Street bridge, before the cops closed it for the day.
For the next four hours, I averaged a mile an hour as I made the drive home to Old Town Alexandria. My route took me directly past the Pentagon, which had been hit while I was on the road. Dazed civilians and uniformed members of the military were all over the streets, walking on the shoulder of the highway, trying to get home. Cell phones networks were jammed, making it impossible to contact loved ones. I felt like I was driving through the set of a post-apocalyptic movie.
When I finally got home, I tore off my work clothes and put on my running gear. I needed to literally work the feelings I felt out. As I stepped onto the GW Parkway and tuned into the news on my bright yellow Walkman, the day’s events hit me like a ton of bricks. I sobbed and asked God, “where are you in all of this?” Overcome with emotion, I got on my knees, and asked Him to use me to help heal our nation.
As I worked it all out on the trail - physically, spiritually and emotionally - I became very clear in what my purpose was for coming to DC. It wasn’t to get to the next rung in the ladder of my career, or to make a name for myself. It was to serve the President and our Country in any capacity required of me. 9/11 was the most clarifying moment of my life.
There is no greater honor than to answer the call of public service. Many of my friends joined the military in the wake of 9/11, and many served with me in the Bush Administration, while others loved their neighbors better, and volunteered in private capacities. However we chose to serve, our generation was marked by this day, in a way that nothing since ever has.
We are the 9/11 generation. We responded to the terrorists with clarity, resolve, and a desire to see justice served. Our love of country and desire to protect her at any cost will always be part of our DNA. We will never forget.