Former Vice President Dick Cheney reflected on a long political career while headlining the Park County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Cody. But one day stood out above all others: Sept. 11, 2001.
“9/11’s one of those days that everybody remembers,” Cheney told those in attendance. “Everybody pretty well knows where they were at that time, whether it was home, going to school or going to work. [It was] such a dramatic event that it had an impact on all of us.”
Cheney was in his office in the West Wing of the White House when he found out that two airplanes hit the World Trade Center towers in New York.
“After I’d been there for a short period of time, people started to gather in my office,” he said. “Condi Rice, the National Security Adviser, came in and Josh Bolten, who later became Chief of Staff, came in. We had eight to 10 people there and all of a sudden, the door burst open and it was one of my Secret Service agents. He came around behind my desk, put his right hand on the back of my belt and his left hand on my left shoulder, lifted me out of the chair and propelled me out of the office — obviously something they’d practiced.”
After a third airplane hit the Pentagon, the vice president later heard that another airplane was headed for the White House.
“This officer came in and said, ‘Sir, we have a plane headed for Crown [the White House] at a high rate of speed. Are we authorized to take it out?’” Cheney said. “And I said, ‘Yes.’ He stepped out, came back in and asked again — he wanted to make certain he heard it properly — and I said, ‘Yes.’”
That airplane turned out to be Flight 93, where the passengers fought back against hijackers and forced the plane to crash in rural Pennsylvania. Dick Cheney described what the passengers did as “one of the most courageous acts I can imagine.”
Ironically, the former vice president took part in Continuity of Government training as a Wyoming Congressman in the 1980s, which prepared for a much worse event than 9/11.
“As bad as the events of 9/11 were, some of us had practiced exercises for far more dangerous and difficult circumstances — an all-out Soviet nuclear attack on the United States,” Vice President Cheney said. “That [training] helped — that training kicked in that morning for those of us that had been involved in the program.”
Vice President Cheney told attendees at the dinner that 9/11 represented a turning point in how he and then-President George W. Bush dealt with terrorism in America.
“The situation that we had to recognize, that hadn’t been recognized before, was that this was not a law-enforcement problem,” Cheney said. “Before that, we’d always treated terrorist attacks as a law-enforcement problem — send the FBI on them, they’d get the bad guys and put them on trial. We lost more people there than we lost at Pearl Harbor; 2,400 at Pearl Harbor and we lost 3,000 that morning on 9/11.
“The president believed very deeply, as I did, that this was an act of war ... and that we were justified in using all the means at our disposal in order to go find and take out whoever had been responsible — it turned out to be Bin Laden — but also to do everything we could to prevent any further attacks.”
About 240 people attended Friday’s sold-out dinner at the Holiday Inn, including U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and several statewide Republican political candidates. The event raised $40,000 for the county GOP.
“The Cheney family is amazing,” said Denise Shirley, who serves as the state committeewoman for the Park County Republican Party and helped organize the dinner. “They have deep roots in Wyoming. They visit Park County frequently and Congresswoman Liz Cheney is doing an exceptional job for the great state of Wyoming.”
Shirley said she was honored to have the Cheneys at the Lincoln Day Dinner.
“When he [Vice President Cheney] spoke about 9/11, it brought back so many emotions,” Shirley said. “It was a reminder of a time when there were true heroes that saved so many lives by sacrificing their own. It was a reminder that at that point in time we were not Republicans, Democrats or independents; we were just Americans moving through the biggest tragedy of our lifetime.”