Sen. Campbell went to 7-11 for news
One of the 100 most powerful people in the nation that morning, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., suddenly became just another American trying to get a grip on a new reality as the morning progressed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Told by a security officer to leave his office as he was sorting through the morning mail, Campbell stepped outside to see a huge plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon.
“I thought we got bombed or something,” Campbell said in a recent phone interview from his Ignacio jewelry studio and ranch.
He wasn’t alone. Senators and representatives scattered out of the Capitol, left pretty much to their own devices.
Even though it was “the center of the free world,” the Capitol had no standard evacuation plan, said Campbell, who served in the Senate from 1993 to 2005.
So Campbell, ousted from the Capitol office that, as far as he or anyone else knew, was about to become a target of warfare, did what thousands of his countrymen did. He went to a 7-Eleven convenience store.
Even before he left his office, he had heard something about an airplane striking one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Campbell had a dim memory of a plane striking the Empire State Building in 1945 (one did, in fact,) and chalked it up to pilot confusion, possibly fog, as had been the case more than a half-century before.
At the 7-Eleven, Campbell watched in horror as television captured the crash of the second plane into the second tower.
“I knew then that this wasn’t fog and it was no mistake,” Campbell said.
No one knows the target of United Flight 93, which crashed into the Pennsylvania earth that morning, but Campbell said he suspects it was the Pentagon and that the jet that careened into the Pentagon was supposed to strike at the Capitol or White House.
“The White House sits kind of low and has trees around it,” Campbell said. “I think he overflew it and saw the huge Pentagon and nosed in there.”
After the chaos, order was restored the next morning and Washington, D.C., was an armed camp.
“I never saw such a fast lockdown,” with anti-aircraft guns and armed soldiers everywhere, Campbell said.
About three weeks after the attacks, Campbell joined a motorcycle ride to New York City, a run that picked up 30 or 40 riders each time it passed through a town. It ended with the hanging of a wreath at ground zero and a stop at a fire station in which its entire complement of firefighters died on Sept. 11.
Since the attacks, much has changed, not the least of it air travel, Campbell said.
“A handful of guys changed the complexion of a nation,” Campbell said.