I thought to myself that this scene must be reminiscent of some bygone rime in America's political history when a White House staff did not plan every presidential visit weeks in advance. I thought of Lincoln at Gettysburg, stepping out of a train to make a speech, and spontaneous crowds of people, some climbing into trees or on walls, gathering around to watch and listen. Here was our Commander-in-Chief, faced with unprecedented destruction on American soil, to rally men in hard hats at the center of a wounded city, at the center of a stunned nation.
As he passed in front of our section, his hand met mine, and he looked me in the eye for more than a moment to hear me stammer what I believe was something like, God bless, Mr. President, we're behind you. He was in no hurry to speak to us as a group, bin rather took his time meeting us individually. The crowd around the rubble was growing fast, reaching at least 1,000. There was clearly an enthusiasm in the air for the first time since September 11.
When the President finally grabbed a bullhorn and began to speak, it was hard to hear him at first. When someone in the crowd shouted, We can't hear you! the President proclaimed loudly, But I can hear you! And the rest of the counny hears you! And soon, the people who did this. . . are going to hear from all of us! At that moment, a shot of electricity surged through the crowd. Cheers erupted and echoed off the surrounding buildings, each draped with a tattered American flag. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! It went on and on.
Thenat the corner of West and Vesey streets in New York City, on the edge of a mass grave, at the feet of the Commander-in-Chief of the world's mightiest nationI was overwhelmed with an unexpected sense of fraternity and love of country. Not fifty feet away lay the remains of five thousand innocent people, and here, at their side, a band of their brothers stood before their leader, united in an unconditional love of justice. I really do think that is what it was.