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Just arriving in D.C. from New Mexico at about 10:30 p.m., I almost missed the announcement that bin Laden was dead.
My Blackberry was buzzing with the news of the impending Presidential Message.
I was frustrated, in the airport, waiting for my bag. I ran to the car, turned on the radio; the President had not yet spoken. The announcer said a small group was gathering at the White House chanting “USA.”
I hurried there, arriving just as the President was speaking. One of the first to arrive, I parked half a block from the White House.
People were running, skateboarding, jumping out of cabs, double parking. The streets were already electric with enthusiasm.
The pulsing mass numbered about 500 people when I arrived. People chanting “USA, USA.”
Flags waving everywhere ... the crowd swelled to thousands. Hugging, shaking hands. Cheers.
The average age is 26 or so. The chants are fresh and edgy ... the F-bomb abounds.
Handmade signs announce the news with unmistakable enthusiasm: “Sama bin gotten” “Justice has been done” “F yea we got him”
Jubilation. Freedom. Gratitude. The day of reckoning for our public enemy number one has arrived.
A light pole in the middle of the crowd is an obvious target. People try to shimmy up it. The crowd chants encouragement as they try, and groans in sympathy when they fail and slip back to the ground.
Suddenly the crowd bursts into the National Anthem. A young man has reached the top of the pole and has draped a flag across the top.
A human figure is climbing a tree by the fence dressed in a Spiderman American Flag costume. A young woman sits on the shoulders of a friend to see more. Others are doing the same all around me.
The crowd erupts. A TV crew had arrived and turned on the camera to capture the emotions of the night. I snap a picture of a young man chugging a fifth of Jim Beam.
A Capitol Hill staffer recognizes me as a Congressman. Word spreads quickly that someone from Congress is there. Spontaneous requests to make pictures with me.
Young people come up to hug me and thank me for serving. Handshakes abound.
One of the biggest hits in the crowd is Santa Claus with Blues Brothers shades. He recognizes the DFC pin on my blazer and pauses to say thanks for my service.
The crowd is filled with vets. They are as young as the crowd, chests bursting with pride that they had done their part. One vet’s T-shirt reads: “It is God’s job to judge Osama Bin Laden, It is the military’s job to arrange the meeting.”
My Father’s generation experienced VE Day with the wild, celebrating mob in New York. But my generation drifted quietly into town from Viet Nam.
Our nation was embarrassed by the war and its soldiers. Tonight, though, our nation was filled with renewed pride.
For nearly a decade our men and women in uniform fought relentlessly for justice, for freedom, and for our way of life.
That crowd didn’t care what color your skin is, who you worship, or who you voted for. Just like in the aftermath of that awful September morning, we were united as Americans.
At 2:30 a.m., I depart ... others are walking wearily but contentedly away. Others, called by friends, have jumped out of bed are just arriving. I pull out of my prime parking spot ... a car is waiting to slip into it.
The night was a night of fervent thanksgiving for a nation that will remember its promise to bring to justice anyone who makes an unprovoked attack on our citizens.
The celebration was the appropriate response of a grateful nation to so many who have given so much.