Journal by ex-Hill staffer gives firsthand look at 9/11

Cathy Travis was at a press conference in the Capitol with her boss, former Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He and former Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) were to talk about military preparedness. But as news trickled in of the terrorist attacks, the lawmakers cut their conference short, and Travis was among the hundreds of members of Congress and staffers heading for the doors to evacuate the Capitol.

In the following days, Travis regularly wrote in her journal to process the attacks and the ensuing anthrax scares and security changes on Capitol Hill. After retiring  in 2007, she compiled the journal entries into a book, Target Sitting, which she has now published through Kindle Digital Publishing in time for the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

Travis spoke to The Hill about her journal, her 9/11 memories and her time in the Capitol:

Q: Why did you decide to share your post-Sept. 11 journal?

[Osama] bin Laden died. That was the bookend for the whole traumatic thing. It always seemed like an unhappy, unfinished story, I guess. When bin Laden was killed, I thought that was a good bookend for it. 

Q: You describe the morning of Sept. 11 in great detail. You were on your way to the Capitol for a press conference after having watched the second plane crash. When did you first think, “The Capitol could be next”?

At the second plane. At the second plane, it was a coordinated attack, and we knew that instantly. I always thought the Capitol was going to be a target, anyway, but in terms of an attack on the United States, I always thought the Capitol was a better target for the anti-government types. It’s a really clear and easy-to-see target.

Q: Did you ever consider leaving your job on Capitol Hill in the weeks after Sept. 11?

I thought about the wisdom of it, but I had to talk to a lot of family members and friends back home, who all encouraged me to do exactly that. But I was in politics, and there are not many places to go other than Washington. And I had put so many years into it, I wanted to see it through.

I thought about it, but I didn’t really consider it.

Q: You worked in Congress for several years before and after Sept. 11. What do you think was the biggest change?

The security and the mindset. Those things kind of went hand in hand. The increased security was apparent the next day, and even today.

We were more consciously aware that people wanted to kill us, and it was gong to be right here. We had to get our heads around the fact that it was a wartime capitol under attack from hostile forces inside our borders. It was a less comfortable place to work, and it was a less easy place to work.

It was little things, like when they put the shatter-resistant film on the windows, and when the [security guards] started carrying the bigger guns … it was something more every day. 

Q: What do you plan on doing for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and how do you think it will be for you?

Every Sept. 11 at 9:40 in the morning, I get really antsy, start walking around, say a little prayer. Even right now, it’s still really hard to talk about, even 10 years later. I’ll say a little prayer, I’ll thank the guys on Flight 93 who saved the Capitol.

Q: You retired from Capitol Hill in 2007. What do you miss about working in Congress?

Talking to friends. I have a deep bench of friends still on the Hill, and I talk to people a lot.

This is going to sound ungrateful, but I don’t miss a lot. I don’t miss the 20-hours days, I don’t miss the grind on my health … I do miss talking to my friends, what their family members are doing — the things you talk with your friends about.

Q: Did you tell Rep. Ortiz that you were going to do this book? What was his reaction?

Mr. Ortiz has always been like my uncle, proud-uncle type. When I told him, he said, “Nobody’s going to be able to tell this story better than you, Cathy.”