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9/11: A Year After / WHO WE ARE NOW

John McCain

September 11, 2002

On Capitol Hill, the terrorist attacks first scattered, then galvanized lawmakers. Some wondered, in hindsight, whether they were the target of the fourth hijacked airplane that crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Sen. John McCain, the 66-year-old Arizona Republican, had a personal connection to that plane.

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"Like others in Congress and like most of America, I was a spectator to the tragic events of Sept. 11. But I would like to tell one story that may be of some interest.

There was a young man aboard United [Airlines] Flight 93 named Mark Bingham. You may remember him as the gay rugby player on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, the one who called his mother on an in-flight phone just before passengers stormed the cockpit in an effort to stop the hijackers.

A graduate of UC Berkeley, Mark worked in New York, and in 2000 he was a volunteer for my presidential campaign. I only met him once at a fund-raising event. We had a picture taken together that hung on the wall of his office.

As Mark and the other brave passengers of that flight were fighting for their lives and ours, we in Congress were just beginning a normal day of legislative business.

I was reading the morning newspaper in the Russell Senate Office Building. I had the television on and saw the film of the first airplane hitting the World Trade Center. I wasn't sure what the cause was. But, soon after, the second one hit, and it became pretty obvious. A few minutes later, word came that we should evacuate.

The scene was somewhat chaotic. People poured out of the buildings. Some went to a park across the street. We didn't really have an emergency plan. I think they've fixed the problem since then, but at the time there were certainly no provisions for that kind of threat.

[Later], Mark's story began to make the news. His mother went on television and said her son had admired Sen. McCain. She then called me and asked if I would speak at his funeral. I said I would be honored.

What did I feel? Enormous sorrow and enormous pride. Sorrow that Mark had to lose his life full of promise. But pride that as an American, he was willing to give up his life in order to save [those] of others. There is no greater manifestation of patriotism."

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As told to Nick Anderson

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