Montana Viewpoint

September 16, 2002

{This September 11th just past, I was honored to have been given the privilege of being part of a memorial ceremony at Spring Creek Lodge, near Thompson Falls, honoring the victims of that day a year ago. Because my remarks seemed to be well received, I thought that sharing it with my readers might be appropriate. This article is excerpted from my speech that night.}

As much as I may have felt anger, dismay, sadness, and many other emotions in the aftermath of the terrorist attack of September 11th, I have to confess that I was strangely dissatisfied with how I felt. My emotions didn’t seem real, somehow. I found the missing piece last August when some of the survivors of Ladder Company 23 of the New York Fire Department visited the Montana Legislature.Those men put a real human face on it for me. As the firemen entered the Senate chamber and walked down the aisle to stand in front of us, we rose and began to applaud them with the most enthusiastic and sincere greeting of visitors I have ever witnessed. After each one introduced himself, their spokesman, a little guy with a bushy mustache, spoke to us. He began by saying, “We never set out to be heroes, we were just doing our jobs.”

Just doing their jobs, like tens of thousands of other American men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day with no thought of reward or recognition. Just regular Americans, just doing their jobs.

I often tell folks that I got my start in public service by being appointed to the Trout Creek Garbage Board. I’m proud of that. It didn’t carry a lot of prestige (well, maybe not any), but it was there that I learned that even the smallest jobs in our society needed doing, and in America, we did them with volunteers.

If we are in an accident, or suffer a heart attack, one of the first people we will see will be a volunteer—an ambulance volunteer. If our home catches fire, the first person we see will be a volunteer—a volunteer firefighter. Regular Americans, just doing their jobs.

And that’s the American way. Over half of adult Americans volunteer their time in one way or another for the benefit and betterment of our country. That’s 100 million Americans: no other nation even comes close to matching that performance.

America is unique among nations.

Immediately after the attack, our first thought was for healing, not retaliation. We took care of our own first, caring for the wounded, helping others to mourn their dead. Then we retaliated.

Led by our President, we did not scapegoat innocent people of the same race or religion as the attackers, as other nations might do.

America is unique among nations.

America is full of heroes who are “just doing their jobs” to keep our country safe and running well: our veterans, our cops, our firemen, and many, many more. Mostly we only think of them when they do something extraordinary, or when we are reminded that they have done something extraordinary, like on Veterans Day. But these heroes are always among us, often unnoticed.

We will never have the full accounting of what went on inside the World Trade Towers, or the Pentagon, or United flight 93, but I can guarantee you that there were thousands of acts of individual heroism and sacrifice that will be unrecorded for time immemorial, but are no less real.

If we would take away anything from our awful national experience on that date, it should be our faith and belief in the American people. That, whether in time of calamity or not, almost every one of us gives something to our neighbor and our nation.

So, we will be reminded now, for many years on each September 11th, of the greatness of the American people. We will be reminded because of the sacrifice of those thousands of innocent Americans who were randomly murdered by zealots and madmen in the name of their criminal cause.

And we will remember, and since it will be because of those heroes that we remember, we will know that their deaths were not in vain.

America is unique among nations.

Jim Elliott
Phone: 406-444-1556
Mail: State Senate Helena, MT 59620