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During Sept. 11 attacks, then-Rep. Adam Putnam was with President George W. Bush

The group waiting on the steps of Emma E. Booker Elementary School for President George W. Bush was informed he would not stop to talk to them on the way inside. He had to take a call.

Bush stopped anyway. "I'll be right there," he told his chief of staff, Andrew Card.

"Mr. President," Card replied, "you really need to take this phone call."

It was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's hard to believe it's been 10 years," said former U.S. Rep Adam Putnam, now Florida's agriculture commissioner, who was at the school.

Putnam, a Bartow Republican the president nicknamed "Red," and the others were preparing for a feel-good event: a visit with students that would highlight the school's improvement.

The call Bush took was startling, but no one knew what was really going on. Officials first thought a small propeller plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers.

Bush continued with the program, reading along as second-graders recited The Pet Goat, a story in a workbook. Then Card walked over and whispered in his ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."

Putnam saw it happen on the televisions in the school library, where Bush was going to speak to fifth-graders. The president addressed the nation instead: "This is a difficult moment for America. Terrorism against our nation will not stand."

Moments later, Putnam was in the presidential motorcade speeding toward Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. On the way he saw protesters, apparently unaware of the attacks, waving signs. One guy made an obscene gesture to Bush's limo, and Putnam thought the man would regret it once he learned what had happened.

Putnam and former Rep. Dan Miller, R-Bradenton, scrambled onto Air Force One, thinking they were headed back to Washington.

"Buckle up tightly," they were told. The plane climbed rapidly.

Bush summoned the congressmen to the front and said they now had an F-16 escort and that a threat had been received against the plane (the White House later said there was no such threat).

The jet touched down at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and was surrounded by military vehicles. Bush was taken to a secure location to tape a speech to the nation.

From his seat, Putnam watched the plane being prepared for the worst.

"They were loading giant restaurant-sized trays of loaves of bread and box after box of produce and box after box of meat and pallets of three-gallon containers of water."

Bush flew to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska while Putnam returned to Washington on the president's backup plane. It had been waiting at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa and had flown to Barksdale. From the air, Putnam saw smoke rising from the Pentagon and a ring of trash trucks, snow plows and school buses around the U.S. Capitol.

"It was just chilling," he said.

"You just wonder what would have been different had those attacks not occurred. Look at everything that has cascaded from that event: Iraq, Afghanistan, the whole emphasis on terrorist surveillance, the Patriot Act."

He is asked whether it has all been worth it.

"It's hard to argue with the fact that there have been no further attacks since September 2001. And we know they have tried."

The morning of 9/11

(All times a.m. unless otherwise specified)

Hour 1

8:30 to 8:39: Bush motorcade leaves Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key.

8:46: American Airlines Flight 11 hits World Trade Center.

8:48: First media reports of crash.

8:55 (approximately): Motorcade arrives at Emma E. Booker Elementary School.

9:00 (approximately): Bush enters classroom.

9:03: United Airlines Flight 175 hits World Trade Center.

9:03 (approximately): Marine carrying Bush's phone says, "We're out of here." No one leaves.

9:05-9:07: Chief of staff Andrew Card tells Bush about second plane crash; Bush stays in classroom another five minutes.

9:15 (approximately): Bush talks to Cheney, Rice and others.

9:30: Bush speaks to teachers, students and others.

Hour 2

9:35: Motorcade leaves for Sarasota airport.

9:37: American Airlines Flight 77 hits Pentagon.

9:55: Air Force One takes off from Sarasota.

10:03: United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania.

Hour 3

11-11:20: Fighter jets escort Air Force One.

Hour 4

12:03 p.m.: Backup plane takes off from MacDill Air Force Base.

During Sept. 11 attacks, then-Rep. Adam Putnam was with President George W. Bush 09/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 10:16pm]
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