Twenty years ago, as the nightmare of 9/11 unfolded, a World War II veteran from Arizona found himself inside the U.S. Capitol with a critical decision to make.
Bob Stump is a name you might recall if you’ve lived here a while. You may even see his name on your commute if you ever take the Loop 303.
But most of you probably aren’t aware of this former Arizona congressman’s 9/11 story.
A World War II vet who didn’t scare easily, Stump was the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee back in 2001. He was in his office in Washington when al-Qaida terrorists flew two commercial airlines into the World Trade Center in New York, and a third into the Pentagon, killing 2,933 innocent people and forever changing the way we view our world.
A fourth airliner, United Flight 93, was headed toward Washington, D.C., believed to be targeting the U.S. Capitol. Capitol Hill police told everyone to evacuate.
But Bob Stump said no.
He told the Capitol Hill police he had no intention of leaving his office or allowing terrorists to shut down the U.S. Congress.
After Stump stayed put, others followed.
First, Rep. Jim Saxton of New Jersey, who chaired one of Stump’s subcommittees, showed up at Stump’s office along with one of his staffers. They were soon joined by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, another subcommittee chairman who was also checking in.
With no one quite sure when the attacks would stop, Stump and Saxton established contact with other members of the Armed Services committee by phone. Committee members understood the world was changing. Our country — and the brave men and women of our military — would have to adapt to the threat posed by al-Qaida and other terrorists.
So, while smoke was still pouring from the Pentagon and the Twin Towers, Stump and his team started discussions about how to redesign our military to meet the needs of a post-9/11 world. They knew we would need new ways of thinking, new tactics and new resources to protect our country.
We now know of the bravery of the United 93 passengers who stormed the cockpit and made sure that fourth plane never made it to Washington. Their actions — and thousands of other acts of bravery that day — ensured that the 9/11 terrorists failed in their ultimate goal.
While Bob Stump was a brave man, he would be the first to tell you, what he and the others did was not an act of bravery but of defiance. They simply did not want the terrorists to force them out of one building while brave first responders in New York and across the Potomac River were fighting to get into others.
Twenty years later, we are watching another tragedy unfold, this time in Afghanistan, where American personnel have sacrificed and fought year after year to keep terrorists at bay. What has happened over the last several weeks is heartbreaking. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe Bob Stump had the right approach. In the face of threats to our democracy, we need to show the world we won’t back down. We need to be united, but also defiant. It is the way this country was founded, and it is the way we will survive.