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Sec. Hilda Solis Headshot

Ten Years Later, Let's Pay It Forward

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On Sunday, we will remember 9/11 as a wake up call to be vigilant in our efforts to protect the American homeland. Never again will we tolerate our security being threatened or let our guard down in the fight against terrorism.

We can never bring back the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives that day or dull the grief that so many of their loved ones were forced to endure. But as a result of the skill and bravery of our military and intelligence professionals, justice was finally done in May.

In the Book of Romans, we are taught, "Be not overcome of evil... but overcome evil with good." I recall this passage, because in America's darkest hour, our first responders were our ray of light.

In New York and Washington, we saw the selflessness of firefighters, EMTs, police and other rescue personnel. They didn't blink in the face of danger. They risked everything to save their fellow citizens.

It's hard to believe a decade has passed since that terrifying day. Some of the memories still seem so vivid. I was a freshman Congresswoman on 9/11 who had served in the House of Representatives for less than nine months. I'll never forget how the Capitol Police helped us feel safe. We were evacuated from the Capitol, but we couldn't get home. The streets were backed up, the metro in the nation's capital was closed down and the cell towers were clogged with too many calls. Like so many in Washington or New York that day, I felt blessed when I reached my husband and mother back in California to tell them I was OK. The terrorists had aimed the fourth plane at the Capitol -- the bedrock of our democracy. Only the heroism of the passengers on Flight 93 kept them from hitting their target.

Two days later, I toured the crash site at the Pentagon. Walking alongside the debris, I thought about the courage of the firefighters who risked their own lives and ran into that building.

I'm especially proud of the workers who rebuilt the Pentagon in record time. More than 40 percent of the construction workers onsite were Latino. Most of them were Salvadorian. They had immigrated to the D.C. area in the 1980s to escape civil war in their native country. They wore pins that said "The Phoenix Project." On those pins you could see the mythical bird rising from the flames of the Pentagon.

They set an amazing goal: to rebuild the Pentagon in less than a year. They worked 20-hour days, through Thanksgiving and other holidays. They pushed themselves to the limit, because they wanted to show the world, "If you knock America down, we will get right back up."

On September 11, 2002, the E-ring of the Pentagon was rebuilt and operational. In fact, the project was completed three weeks early.

As U.S. Secretary of Labor, I am proud to work in a building that houses the Labor Hall of Fame. It serves a reminder not just of our history, but also of our continuing responsibility to the American worker. It is a place where we can learn from our past and draw strength for our future.

Enshrined in the Hall are the great heroes of the American labor movement -- trailblazers like Cesar Chavez, Frances Perkins, Mother Jones and A. Philip Randolph. These individuals left an indelible mark on our nation, and their accomplishments can be read about in our children's textbooks.

But after 9/11, for the very first time, we inducted a group of workers into the Hall of Fame, whose names are perhaps less known: the 403 rescue workers who lost their lives at Ground Zero trying to save their fellow citizens. These heroes represent the best of America's working people.

On this weekend's solemn anniversary, we honor the sacrifices of our first responders who ran into burning buildings while others ran out. The selflessness of our firefighters, police, EMTs and hazmat workers who were first on the scene inspired the world.

Ten years ago, our first responders were there for their countrymen in the face of an unimaginable crisis. Today, let's rededicate ourselves to be there for them. And each other.

Hilda Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

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