A Houstonite With Bush On 9/11

On September 11th 2001, most Americans can give a precise answer to were they where. That day Houston's Terry Abbott was with President George W. Bush. The events of that day changed his life forever. Bill Stamps spoke with Abbott, who's traveling across the country this week telling his story.

Houston resident Terry Abbott has a quite a story to tell. Ten years ago, Abbott was chief of staff for U.S Education Secretary Rod Paige.

Since President Bush was to be speaking at an elementary school on Septemeber 11th, both he and Secretary Paige joined Bush on his trip in Sarasota Florida.

"It was a beautiful day and we were in the motorcade with the President headed to the school and there were lots of people out alongside the streets waiving signs and cheering and that sort of thing it was really nice. And we were walking into the school and somebody said to me did you hear a plane ran into the World Trade Center. And the first thing all of us thought including the President was that it must have been some small plane that veered off-course and had an accident."

Of course the world would soon learn it was not a small plane and it definitely was not an accident. Abbott talks about all the things he had to do that day to help get the president and Secretary Paige to safety.

But one of the most interesting things he recalls is how lots of information being passed back and forth was simply wrong.

"What they call the fog of war. A military aid told the secretary that morning that a plane had crashed in the National Mall in Washington. And the military aid told him that a plane had crashed into the capitol building. And I guess the scariest one of all, the military aid told the Secretary of Education that the U.S. military had to shoot down a passenger plane in Pennsylvania."

Terry Abbott discussing 9-11
Former U.S. Department of Education official Terry Abbott speaks to students about the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at McQueen High School in Reno, Nevada.

Abbott says September 11th changed his life.

"You know it made me a lot more concerned about it and interested in the entire issue of national security. It made me want to, even in my own business in public relations, take every opportunity to promote the need for the country to be safe."

Currently Abbott is in California on behalf of a client Pearson Education Company. That company has put together a lesson plan for teachers or parents who want a way to talk to children about the world trade center bombings.

It’s at online learning exchange.com.

Abbott himself is talking to students as well.

"I talk about how America has changed since 911.  Not only the changes and security at airports, but the changes in security at their school and then, the fact that we’re in two wars spawned by 9/11, in addition to the continuing war on terror."

After the attacks Americans came together in a way most of us have never seen in our lifetime. But things soon went back to normal. Abbott hopes this weekend will bring back some of that “we’re in this together” feeling.