For a few minutes Tuesday, elected officials of all political stripes put politics aside to stand in solidarity with first responders and remember a day that shook the United States to its core.
On the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Montana took its opportunity to reflect with the annual ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.
Outside, two ladder trucks held the American flag up high in the September breeze as passers-by stopped to take pictures. Inside, some of Montana’s and Helena’s top elected officials took turns honoring a crowd of mostly firefighters and law enforcement and marveling at the bravery of a job that often puts them in harm’s way.
“Each year Sept. 11 reminds us of how much we lost but also what brought our nation together in the face of tragedy and what binds us together as Americans,” Gov. Steve Bullock said.
First responders were resolute in the face of danger, going toward tragedy when basic human instinct tells us to run away.
“Not just today, but each and every day we must show our gratitude to those American heroes. We must work tirelessly to ensure they have access to the benefits they’ve earned and indeed they deserve,” Bullock said.
Rep. Greg Gianforte opened his remarks by describing the morning of 9/11, which started as any other day and quickly saw America thrust into uncertainty.
“They woke up like any of us to another Tuesday morning, as the world changed in an instant they answered the call,” he said of the first responders. “They rushed to the scene, worked to evacuate the towers and treated the wounded.
“It’s the same honor, courage and duty that Montana’s firefighters, dispatchers and law enforcement bring to our communities every day. It is the very spirit of Montana. It’s who we are.”
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox was in Washington, D.C., on 9/11 and headed out that morning for some sightseeing. While at Gettysburg they heard something about a plane crash and returned to their hotel, driving into Washington to an eerie scene of major roads devoid of vehicles and the National Guard and police standing armed at every street corner.
Fox and his wife spent that day watching news coverage and went to sleep believing a scheduled tour would be canceled the next day.
“We got a phone call and the president had declared all government business should go on as usual because America would not be deterred by these cowardly terrorist attacks,” Fox said in one of the more powerful moments of the ceremony.
They would go on to visit several sites, and when they left the White House, they received a small American flag, which Fox still displays in his office.
For Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, 9/11 could be summarized in one word.
“This day brings one word to the front of my mind, and that word is ‘together,’” he said. “Together on this day, Americans from every corner of the country watched as terrorism swept across New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania.”
The theme of togetherness is an important reminder as Americans find themselves divided on politics and policies, Collins said.
“We divide ourselves in parties that define who we are morally, but we should never forget that in America, fellow Americans are not and will never be our enemies,” he said.
Statements of remembrance and support of first responders were also read by staffers for Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines.
The ceremony concluded with a ceremonial bell ringing, a reading of the Firefighter’s Prayer and playing of “Amazing Grace” by a lone bagpiper.
Helena Fire Chief Mark Emmert closed his remarks by thanking the elected officials for their work on support and funding.
“We’re well-trained, well-led and we stand ready,” he said.