Retired Lt. Col. Bob Darling, USMC shared the intense and fascinating details of his day inside the White House during the 9/11 attacks with Upper School students on Tuesday, March 19.
"You need to know your history because history repeats itself," said Mr. Darling. "The White House is the most secure real estate in the world, yet on 9/11 the gates were opened and the Secret Service told people to take off their heels and run." Mr. Darling worked alongside Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the underground White House operations center.
Mr. Darling was working on the fourth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, across the street from the White House, the morning the first hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center in New York. President George W. Bush was visiting a Florida elementary school.
Mr. Darling recalls initially thinking, "that is a lot of damage for a Cessna." Reality quickly hit. "We had a full-blown terrorist attack going on before our eyes," said Mr. Darling. "Our job was to give the president options. In times of a national emergency, we want the president to be airborne. We got the president to 50,000 feet, escorted by fighter jets."
A few minutes later, the team received word of a "white jet flying past the White House and a violation of White House airspace." Minutes later, the plane slammed into the Pentagon. Through vaulted doors below ground, the logistics team moved into the White House bunker. All flights into the Washington, D.C. area were diverted to nearby Andrews Air Force Base. National air travel was abruptly stopped.
At 8:30 p.m., President Bush addressed the nation and called the attacks "evil, despicable acts of terror." He pledged that the U.S. and its allies "would stand together to win the war against terrorism."
"The true heroes of the day were the first responders," said Mr. Darling.
After his presentation, Mr. Darling met with students in Max Kelly '06 (National Security) and David Mercante's (American History) Upper School history classes. "Do your part and make this world a better place," said Mr. Darling. "Be the bloom and grow!"
Mr. Darling's visit to EA was made possible through the generosity of Walter W. Buckley, Jr. '55.
Bob Darling is the author of "24 Hours Inside the President's Bunker, 9/11/01: The White House" and the President and CEO of Turning Point Crisis Management-USA, a crisis leadership training, coaching, and preparedness company, located in Stafford, Virginia.