Sep 10, 2013

My day with President George W. Bush on 9.11.01

Most of us can remember exactly where we were, what we were doing and even who we were with during any major event in history.  I remember being on the playground with my 5th grade class when the Challenger exploded in the skies above our Florida elementary school.  And I will certainly NEVER forget where I was on September 11, 2001.

I was a reporter for a CBS affiliate and was assigned to cover President George W. Bush at a Sarasota school, Emma E. Booker Elementary.  President Bush was speaking about his new education policy and was scheduled to read to a room full of students.  While it is always exciting and an honor to cover a President, this was all fairly routine journalism and a story that typically writes itself.   The day ahead was expected to be pretty “normal” in the realm of television news.  My photographer and I started our morning around 4:30 am; knowing we had to get through secret service and get our press credentials with plenty of time to set up our equipment.  For events like these, media crews are often herded like cattle from position to position.  My photographer and I scored a front row spot in the school’s library and we were surrounded by the national media that follows the President throughout his term.  What started as a hectic but exciting day turned very suddenly into chaos.

As Ian (my photographer) and I stood there waiting for the President to enter the room and address the students we heard, “Oh my God!” from another part of the library.  One of the teachers had the “Today Show” on and was watching images of a plane crashing into the first Tower.  Almost instantly all of our pagers began to ring from our respective newsrooms.  Our News Directors were asking questions of us and we were asking questions of them – none of us understood what was happening and knew it was our job to report these events to our audience.  It seemed like only 10 seconds later and another, “Oh my God!” came from the same teacher. There it was – a 2nd plane into the second Tower. I was numb, admittedly scared and feared these terrorists knew the President was at this school and we were next.

Several minutes passed and finally President George W. Bush addressed the nation through our camera lenses that America was under attack.  Our nation had never experienced such horror and as journalists we are taught to refrain from showing our personal emotions and just report the facts.  I can say, those live reports were undoubtedly the most difficult I have ever given as a reporter.  Holding back tears while reporting on the lives lost was something I was only able to do through the grace of God. And as we continued our live coverage I had to remain focused on details of what was coming in to our newsroom without my mind wandering about the reality of what had just happened and what this meant for tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.  Were we safe?  Was something else going to happen?  Are we now at war?

On every anniversary of this event, I remember the day clearly.  I remember spilling coffee on myself during our drive to Sarasota early that morning.  I remember how that small accident seemed like a big deal.  I remember the sun was shining.  I remember the look in Ian’s eyes when we realized this was the work of terrorists.  I remember the chaos of the library as we were trying to put the facts together and then the eerie quietness after President Bush spoke as we tried to make sense of what happened.  I remember how kind people were to each other for the days that followed as we were healing as a nation.  And I remember being fearful of the uncertainty of what our world was coming to.

To those who lost loved ones in this terrorist attack – I remember hearing your stories for the days and weeks that followed and will never forget.  I will never forget.  We will never forget.

May God bless our nation and a world that is in desperate need of peace.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Americans mark 9/1


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