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US Consul General was in Washington DC when Pentagon was hit

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Grace Shelton, the US Consul General, was in the heart of Washington DC, close to the Pentagon, when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred.

She was working in the State Department when she saw footage of the attacks on TV sets as she walked along a hallway.

“I felt horror and disbelief. I don’t think anyone knew what was happening. The Pentagon is just across the river and we could see the smoke rising. We knew the State Department could be a target,” said Ms Shelton.

Both the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, as well as the Pentagon in Washington had been struck by hijacked planes that morning.

The State Department was evacuated and Ms Shelton and other staffers headed to an open area nearby.

“There was a feeling of fear about not knowing what was going on,” she said. With the Pentagon already hit, there was concern that many other key buildings in the US capital could be targeted, such as the White House and the State Department.

Ms Shelton remembers waiting at that location until being allowed to go home.

“I took the metro out to the furthest point and then got on a bus. Both on the metro and on the bus there was a sense of community. Everyone was sharing what bits of information they were getting and offering to help one another get home. There was a real sense of community.”

She wanted to be with other family members and went to join them, rather than go straight to her own home.

In the aftermath of 9/11 the US Congress approved more funding for the State Department.

Ms Shelton, who worked in the area of human resources at the time, said: “We had more people entering the Foreign Service because they believed in the work of the Foreign Service and diplomacy.

“I had joined because I wanted to serve my country. I felt a renewed commitment to that that what we were doing was important in making the world a safer place.”

That work has involved working across borders to fight terrorism.

The Consul General said: “There has been a reduction in the capabilities of al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”

Before taking up her role in Bermuda two years ago, Ms Shelton was in Slovenia. She said the US has been working closely with European countries “combating terrorism, sharing information and cooperating”.

Looking back at the 9/11 attacks where 3,000 people of many nationalities and faiths died and subsequent terrorist attacks around the world, including those in Madrid, London and Mumbai, Ms Shelton said there was a shared sense of community. She added: “Now is the time to remember all the families who have been affected. The theme now is to have courage and resilience, and that includes moving forward and moving on.”

US Consul General Grace Shelton
US Consul General Grace Shelton

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Published September 09, 2011 at 8:56 am (Updated September 09, 2011 at 8:55 am)

US Consul General was in Washington DC when Pentagon was hit

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