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'Buckle up tightly' - Adam Putnam recalls being with President George W. Bush on 9/11

Published Sep. 11, 2016

From the Tampa Bay Times archive: On the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 in 2011, Adam Putnam reflected on being with President George W. Bush in Sarasota the morning of the attacks.

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.

Full story here.