Raleigh, N.C. — A retired U.S. Army general from North Carolina stood side-by-side with then-President George W. Bush as the nation declared a war on terror following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Ten years later, General Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the impact of the decisions made then will continue to have long-term effects on the nation.
"We must stay vigilant. This is a long-term game," Shelton said. "Remember this adversary that we're up against thinks in terms of decades."
He recalled learning that a plane had flown into the north tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan as he was flying to Hungary.
"When the second one hit, I didn't even wait. I told the pilot, 'Turn around. Let's go back,' and I was told, 'The air space (is) closed, we can't go back,'" Shelton said. "I said, 'Yes, we can. Go back. I'll ask forgiveness, not permission.'"
In his heart, he said, he knew al-Qaida was responsible.
He tried to prepare President Bush for the challenges and strategic moves required to go into Afghanistan.
"What are the goals that we are going to measure against when we go in? Those are the things you try to lay out for the president right up front," Shelton said.
The Tarboro native and North Carolina State University graduate returned to his alma mater for a memorial ceremony Sunday.
"I think it's great that N.C. State has stopped to honor first responders today, our men and women in uniform," Shelton said. "Certainly the attack has changed America. It has made us all cognizant of the threat we face on a daily basis. It has reminded us of the importance of our first responders."