I actually had a buddy in New York who called me.
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He worked in a tall office tower and had seen the first plane hit. It was word-of-mouth intel, but then I started to see TV starting to cover it. Brian Montgomery , director of advance, White House: Rice needs to talk to the president. Karl Rove , senior adviser, White House: We were standing outside the elementary school.
My phone rang. The boss was about two feet away. He was shaking hands. I told him the same thing. Dave Wilkinson , assistant agent-in-charge, U. Secret Service: Eddie Marinzel and I were the two lead agents with the president that day. The head of the detail was back in Washington. Brian Montgomery: There was this group of students, all young ladies in uniforms and teachers, all oblivious to all of this.
They had no idea what was going on.
Condi was holding for him. It was only a nanosecond, and then the principal opened the door and the president went into the classroom to meet the students. Dave Wilkinson: We take everything extremely seriously, anything that could affect the presidency. We began speaking to experts back at the White House. No one knew anything. Sandy Kress: I was back in the media room.
There was some buzz about the first plane, people were watching it on a TV.source
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Then there was a stampede across the media room as they saw the second plane hit. Adam Putnam R-Florida: I was brand new. I was a freshman [congressman]. We were clustered around the TV and watched the second plane hit. Master Sgt. Dana Lark , superintendent of communications, Air Force One: From all indications, it was going to be a simple trip.
Mark Tillman , presidential pilot, Air Force One: We were all getting ready, based on the estimated departure time. All of us had already shown up at the plane.
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Dana Lark: I saw the second airplane strike. Staff Sgt. Our job is to protect the asset [Air Force One]. The Secret Service is principal protection. We protect the plane 24 hours a day, even after the president has left. One of the advance [Secret Service] agents had told us about the first plane. Then about 17 minutes later, I see the same guy sprinting across the tarmac. We started to increase security around the plane—made it a tighter bubble.
Paul Germain , airborne communications system operator, Air Force One: We thought it was weird even just when the first plane hit. Then, as soon as that second plane hit, that switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree.
Mark Tillman: Everything started coming alive. Another plane hit the other Tower. My mind flashed to three initials: Usama bin Laden. General Assembly. Mike Morell: I was really worried that someone was going to fly a plane into that school. This event had been on schedule for weeks, anyone could have known about it.
Eddie [Marinzel, the lead Secret Service agent] wanted to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. Adam Putnam: We need to get him secure. All of a sudden it hits me: Bush when he threw up on the Japanese prime minister. I was all business in that moment. I went down my checklist. Karl Rove: I remember [Andy Card] pausing at the door, before he went in, it seemed like forever, but it was probably just a couple heartbeats. I never understood why, but he told me, years later, that he needed to spend a moment formulating the words he wanted to use.
When I was standing at the classroom door, I knew I was delivering a message that no president would want to hear. I knew that my message would define the moment. I decided to pass on two facts and an editorial comment.
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America is under attack. The students were completely focused on their books. Ellen Eckert , stenographer, White House: There are six stenographers who work for the [White House] press office. One of us always travels with the president. I always said I typed fast for a living all over the world. For Andy to interrupt a presidential event, [we knew] it had to be of monumental consequence. Everything started lighting up. It was chaos. All of a sudden, other reports start coming in—explosion at the White House, car bomb at the State Department.
I was 35 years old.
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This was an extensive attack. Could this be a nation-state? Gordon Johndroe: He finished the book and went back into the hold room. Matt Kirk, our White House liaison, says to [Rep. Dan Miller R-Fla. We need to be inconspicuous quickly, so we went and just got in our vehicle in the motorcade. You could see the windows and hatches of the motorcade open up, the visible expression of the armaments that are always around the president. We ended up with a compromise—Andy Card said we have a whole auditorium full, waiting for the next event.
There was no imminent threat there in Sarasota, so we agreed [the president could give a statement before we left. It was the fear of the unknown. He went to the auditorium. He gave a very brief statement, he started off and I cringed right away. We have this joke, mostly with the photographers—no running. No running to catch the president. The motorcade left there and in a very aggressive fashion we got to the aircraft.
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Intelligence information is always sketchy. That ratcheted things up. It was a very fast limo ride. We asked for double-motorcade blocks at the intersection. Double and triple blocks. Not just motorcycle officers standing there with their arms up, but vehicles actually blocking the road. The whole way back, we were using the limos as a shell game, to keep the president safe. When we got back to the plane, it was ringed by security and Secret Service with automatic weapons.
They re-searched everyone before we could reboard, not just the press.
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When the limo door opened, I was struck that the engines on Air Force One were running. Buzz Buzinski: You never lose the excitement of seeing the motorcade. What are they doing to make it happen? You could feel the tension. You could see it on their face—Andy Card, Ari Fleischer, the president. Sonya Ross: They brought out the bomb-sniffing dogs.
They were drooling all [over] the luggage.