WASHINGTON — White House hopeful Mitt Romney recounted Tuesday how he drove past the smoldering Pentagon on September 11, 2001, saying he was stunned by “the smell of war” that had reached American shores.
In a somber speech to the National Guard Association in Reno, Nevada, the Republican presidential nominee said he was putting aside his differences with President Barack Obama for a day to hail the men and women who protect America, and who gave their lives 11 years ago in the worst terror attacks in US history.
While doing so he offered his personal account from September 11, 2001, when he was in the US capital to meet with lawmakers about security preparations for the upcoming Winter Olympics, which he was overseeing.
“Someone rushed into our office (in the Ronald Reagan building, near the White House) and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I turned on the small TV on our desk there and watched in shock as flames and smoke erupted from the North Tower,” Romney told members of the National Guard.
After calling his wife Ann, he watched on television as the second plane crashed into the second tower, and he said he realized “these were terrorist attacks, these were evil and cowardly and heinous attacks.”
He left for neighboring Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington.
“The highway I was on came within a few hundred yards (meters) of the Pentagon, which had been hit by then. Cars had stopped where they were, and people had gotten out, watching in horror,” Romney recalled.
“I could smell burning fuel and concrete and steel. It was the smell of war, something I never imagined I would smell in America.”
Romney has consistently called for maintaining a strong and muscular military posture, and he did so in Reno, using the 9/11 anniversary to reinforce his opposition to severe budget cuts that are due to take effect next year if Congress does not act.
“It is true that our armed forces have been stretched to the brink, and that is all the more reason to repair and rebuild,” he said.
But the return of US troops from Afghanistan after completing “a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” he said, “cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts.”
Like Obama, Romney has addressed US military veterans several times on the campaign trail this year, including a speech to the American Legion late last month in Indiana, and a July appearance at the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.