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Never Forget

I’m taping this radio address on the morning of Friday, September 11th. As a fellow American, I don’t have to remind you what that date means.

And as Americans, we have a duty to remember what happened 14 years ago today….

To remember the lives that were lost.

To remember the first responders, the heroes who sacrificed for others.

To remember our brave servicemen and women who heeded the call of duty and fought for us on foreign soil.

And to remember where we were when the towers fell …. As if anybody could ever forget.

I certainly remember that morning. I was then head of the DEA, and I had spent the previous night in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I had participated in a debate on the issue of drug legalization at the University of New Mexico.

We were at the airport the next morning when everything happened.

We called back to headquarters. They wanted us back fast, but all the commercial flights were grounded, so a National Guard plane was sent to pick us up.

On the runway, we sat for an hour waiting for clearance. Finally, the pilot turned around and told us that the Department of Defense had okayed us, the FAA had cleared us, but nobody had gotten word to the local air traffic controller. And he was refusing to let us depart.

The pilot was looking at me. I looked back and made my first official post-9/11 decision. I said, “Just take off.” He did, and that air-traffic controller was not happy. But we had to get back. We had jobs to do.

Our first task was getting the planes back in the air again. We had 25 air marshals before 9/11. That’s all. The President was not going to put planes back in the air until we had enough air marshals. So I sent out an email to our DEA agents asking for volunteers; by their training, DEA agents are well equipped for that kind of job. Almost immediately, we had well over 400 volunteers. The sense of duty and love of country was palpable that day.

You have your own clear memories. We all do. Turn to your neighbor and ask, “where were you on 9/11?” And you won’t get a shrug; you’ll get a story that tugs at your heart.

That collective memory is important. It defines us. It puts our petty squabbles into perspective. It reminds us that we are all Americans and, as Americans, we share a common bond — in good times and in the worst of times.

In America, in Arkansas, this morning’s stranger is this afternoon’s brother or sister. On 9/11 we were all brothers and sisters. We were all family. We are all Americans.

We still are. 

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