On the eve of the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and sparked two wars, former President George W. Bush is drawing attention to the fact that the nation has not suffered another deadly attack and he's thanking the military and secret agents who've kept that record—most of which occurred under his watch—unblemished.
In an emotional letter that recalls the horrific day and efforts to tighten security around the nation, Bush wrote: "I vowed that I would never forget the wounds from that day. Our country was attacked with deliberate and massive cruelty because we are freedom's home and defender. In our grief and anger, we found our mission and our moment. We used all elements of our national power to keep America safe at home by taking the fight to the enemy abroad and promoting liberty as an alternative to terror. Nine years after September 11, our safety from terrorism on our soil is a tribute to the dedicated men and women in our intelligence services and the military who work day and night to defend our great land."
The letter was sent to the former CIA official Rob Richer and his wife Kim who are about to start a bicycle trip across the nation dubbed "Pedaling for Patriots" to raise funds for the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation.
Bush and his dad, former President George H.W. Bush, himself a former CIA director, have lent their support to the coast-to-coast fundraising plan. In his own letter, the elder Bush said, "It is fitting that your 'Pedaling for Patriots' journey begins on September 11th, a date that reminds all Americans not only of the need for constant vigilance, but also of the sacrifices made by the men and women of the CIA whose life's mission is to keep America safe."
At the time of his retirement from the CIA in 2005, Richer was the second ranking member of the agency's clandestine service. He has been stationed in Yemen, Tunisia, Nepal, Jordan and Oman. He and his wife are former Marines.
Often when disaster strikes CIA officers, their identities must remain secret and that can raise enormous challenges to the family left behind. The CIA Officers Memorial Foundation provides scholarships and other assistance to families of the killed agents.
While his letter was released today, the younger Bush dated it 9/11, giving it added meaning on the eve of the anniversary of the attacks the occurred in his first year as president. "Americans will always remember the moment the news came, and the horrifying images of fire, ashes, and bent steel. We will also remember the amazing spirit of sacrifice, patriotism, and defiance that took hold across our country. We saw our national character in rescuers who worked past exhaustion, in volunteers and in long lines of blood donors, and in passengers aboard United 93 who sacrificed to save others. In so many acts, Americans met great tragedy with a deep commitment to one another, an abiding love for our country, and incredible courage in the face of overwhelming grief."
Bush, who is about to release a presidential autobiography that is expected to focus on 9/11, added that "we can be confident in our future because we are blessed with men and women who willingly put the welfare of their nation before themselves. As long as we have defenders of such character and courage, America will always be in good hands."
His and his father's letters can be read here.
The bike trip will take place in stages, starting in Jacksonville, Florida, and ending October 27 in San Diego. The duo plan to blog along the way.