OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — While there was chaos and fear all over the country on September 11 multiple Nebraskans, some who would decide if we were soon going to war, were in Washington, DC that day.
The day in Washington started like any other September day, but it’s a day both former US Senator Ben Nelson and Nebraska State Senator Lou Ann Linehan will never forget.
3 News Now sat down with both politicians, who both told similar, yet obviously different stories from the infamous day 20 years ago.
Senator Nelson was getting to his office after a breakfast meeting and it was eerily quiet.
“Something’s, something is way off,” said Nelson.
Soon his eyes were glued to the TV where he saw a plane had hit the first tower.
Lou Ann Linehan was also watching television down the road at the US Department of State.
“We all thought it was an accident because on TV you couldn’t tell it was a jetliner, you could just see a plane,” said Linehan.
Linehan was inside her boss Paul Kelly's office when the second plane hit.
“He could see the Pentagon from his window so he watched the third plane hit the pentagon and I was standing in his office and so of course, my response was well should we get out of the state department,” said Linehan.
Nelson quickly realized he would soon have to be making some very important and fateful votes.
“Well we knew we were at war, we just didn’t know who the enemy was or why the enemy was,” said Nelson. “This was an attack, this was intentional and we had enemies and they were making themselves known.”
Both were trying desperately to get more information on what happened and telling their families they were okay.
“Phone lines were jammed, there were so many people you couldn’t get through,” Linehan said.
“The Senate was totally unprepared technologically for anything, there was no plan in place,” said Nelson.
Linehan's daughter was in school in Virginia, near DC.
“And she had students in her class, who had parents at the Pentagon, they just pulled down the shades, she wrote a great essay that she thought the world had ended,” said Linehan.
Linehan was eventually told to leave the state department and go home — the problem was she couldn’t get to her car and the DC metro stopped running.
So she was simply left outside.
“Just walked around, there was no, we didn’t know what to do. Now afterwards, I found out, the dumbest thing you can do in an attack is go out onto the street, we were very lucky that day that there weren’t people with guns in trees,” Linehan said.
Nelson eventually set up a command center at home with a handful of staff, but with so many unknowns — thoughts of more attacks were going across his mind.
“It’s not unlikely to think of the possibility that they had the addresses of members of the House and members of the Senate, members of the Cabinet, and have set up for attacks that way,” said Nelson.
Three days later, Nelson was one of 98 senators voting to go to war in Afghanistan.
“It was a staging area for terrorism, so we had to do what we had to do,” said Nelson.
After 20 years, both reflect on what September 11 means to the country now, days after troops officially left Afghanistan.
“I think we felt we were on the defense and today we still feel we’re on the defense,” said Nelson. “We’re not used to that and we haven’t gotten used to it."
“All of it is very ironic that we’ve had the events of the last week but there are many, many lessons to be learned from this, I just hope that we learn them so a generation from now they don’t go through all the same things,” said Linehan.