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A small taste:
Staff Sgt. Paul Germain, airborne communications system operator, Air Force One: We thought it was weird even just when the first plane hit. People who know airplanes, that’s some real stuff right there. Big airplanes just don’t hit little buildings. Then, as soon as that second plane hit, that switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree.
Col. Mark Tillman: Everything started coming alive. We were hooked into the PEOC [the White House bunker] and the JOC [Joint Operations Center], for the Secret Service. They’re all in the link now.
Andy Card: Another plane hit the other Tower. My mind flashed to three initials: UBL. Usama bin Laden. Then I was thinking that we had White House people there—my deputy, Joe Hagin, and a team were in New York preparing for the U.N. General Assembly. I was thinking that Joe was probably at the World Trade Center, that’s where the Secret Service office was, in the basement.
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.
Rep. Adam Putnam: There’s some debate within the staff that I can hear about how the president needs to address the nation. They’re saying, “We can’t do it here. You can’t do it in front of fifth-graders.” The Secret Service is saying, “You’re doing it here or you’re not doing at all. We’re not taking the time to do it somewhere else. We need to get him secure.”
Dave Wilkinson: We’re talking to folks back at the White House, we’re beginning to get the motorcade up and running, getting the motorcycle cops back, we’re ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice. All of a sudden it hits me: The president’s the only one who doesn’t know that this plane has hit the second building.