Work-wise, two contradictory images remain at the forefront of my 9/11 memory. The first is the complete chaos of the White House staff evacuation. After a security detail literally lifted the vice president from his desk and warp-speed evacuated him to the president’s Emergency Operations Center, speechwriter John McConnell and I were left behind in his office, staring at each other as if to say, “What are we, chopped liver?” I think I actually said that. After some confusion, the West Wing staff was evacuated to the mess. After more confusion, we were told to depart the White House complex, with instructions to “run for your life.” Inasmuch as I was in red patent-leather spike heels, I opted to walk for my life, having no concept of the gravity and danger of the circumstances.
My other crystal-clear memory is that once the military had located me and escorted me to the PEOC at the vice president’s request, I was awestruck by the calm, focused, job-like atmosphere of the bunker. The vice president had assumed command central, in constant contact with the president, and the administration hierarchy was completely engaged in their respective tasks: Secretary Mineta with airline issues, National Security Council chief Condi Rice coordinating with her charges. When Secretary Rumsfeld connected from DOD, his report was crisp and clear. My contemporaneous thought, which I have often marveled at since, and still do ten years later, was how extraordinarily well this team was meshing; how competent they were; how devoid of any of the friction and turf protection that such an unprecedented event could have precipitated (no “I’m in charge here”); how experienced each member of the team was. There was no fog-of-war confusion.
My most poignant personal memory was learning when I finally got home that an unknown military aide had tracked down my husband to tell him I was unharmed and safe. There was no time (and no unused secure phone lines) to call home; I knew my husband would get our young girls to safety, but they had no way of knowing how or where I was. Ten years later, we both remain profoundly grateful to that thoughtful aide whom we’ve never been able to thank.— Mary Matalin served as an assistant to Pres. George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney.
CLIFFORD D. MAY
As an ex-reporter it has long been my habit to keep a television on in my office — just the picture, no sound. I look up from time to time to see if there’s a news bulletin. On the sunny autumn morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I glanced at the TV and saw a plane flying into a tower of the World Trade Center. I turned up the volume. The question being asked, of course, was whether this had been a terrible accident or something much worse.
When the second plane hit we knew. There was, for me, a special irony in this. Just a few days earlier, I had met with Jack Kemp, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and a small group of philanthropists. Their concern was terrorism.