America Remembers

Tuesday, 9.11.07  

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 America Remembers. That is the title of the CNN September 11 Tribute DVD, which includes archived news footage as well as behind-the-scenes shots and interviews with CNN reporters and producers who had to work through the day telling the story of arguably the most unimaginable event to ever occur on US soil.

If you don’t own or haven’t rented this DVD I highly recommend it. It is absolutely riveting and put together in such a sensitive and moving manner.

John is interviewed for a short piece during the video. Here is a transcript:

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was very clear. All of a sudden there were Secret Service guys, uniformed, ringing the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody out. No choice. No choice, right now. Go.

J. KING: They evacuated us across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There’s been an explosion at the Pentagon.

KING: And then you started seeing everybody come out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw most of the senior staff come out. The last several hundred I saw leaving the grounds. We were told and ordered by the Secret Service to run. They were running through the gate.

J. KING: We were all on our cell phones in Lafayette Park and I can just remember saying I need to keep the building in sight because they kept pushing us back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There’s nothing imminent but this is not the place to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Go have lunch, do something else, please.

J. KING: And for the first time in five years around the building, I saw Secret Service with automatic rifles. I remember watching people running out the driveway of the White House crying. It was very hard to comprehend what is really happening here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did it actually hit the Pentagon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It’s unclear. There’s a fire over there.

J. KING: The tone of the town did change. It’s hard to describe in the sense that it’s not something you can grab and put your hands around. Everything was different. Everything was different.

I find it strange that the female guard kept telling everyone to just “go have lunch”. As if it were some normal afternoon and all you had to so was swing around to the sandwich shop and grab a bite to eat. Everyone had MUCH worse things to worry about than what they were going to have for lunch!!!

Unfortunately, I could not find any video clips of John’s piece. (I own the DVD but have not become tech savvy enough to figure out how to put that segment here on the blog!)

There is a a special CNN web page that contains information about the DVD, as well as audio commentaries heard in the piece. If you click on “The President” then click on “timeline” a short montage will appear followed by an audio link where you can hear Major Garrett and John speaking in as they were in the video.

Here is what the pop-up box looks like where you can click on John’s commentary:

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John recently shared with us some additional details about that day, from the moment he first heard about a plane attacking the WTC to finally getting to sleep around 2:30 am (and then yet somehow managing to get back to work at 6:00 in the morning!)

Here is what he had to say about being in Washington DC on September 11, 2001 while covering the story for CNN, as well as making sure his kids were ok that day:

Some of it is a bit of a blur – and I am sure the memories are affected by what I know now versus what was happening then. But some of it is like a slide show; I can still see it and feel it when I take the time to think about it.

I was at an appointment downtown a few blocks from the White House when my Blackberry hummed and, at that moment, it seemed like just a bizarre episode. A colleague, producer Tim McCaughan, sent me an email saying a plane had crashed into the WTC. Probably a small plane and a freak accident.

I kept going with my meeting. I was leaving when the second message came, again from Tim. A second plane. Not a freak accident.

I was going through the White House gate when the evacuation order came; the officers weren’t supposed to, but they let me go through so I could quickly talk to my colleagues. Those are the days when you are lucky to work with remarkable people – the people who don’t get much credit in the TV business because people only see the faces on the screen. Our camera crews turned on their cameras and locked them into live feeds back to our bureau – so even as they evacuated us we would have live pictures of the White House grounds.

I vividly remember the uniformed Secret Service officers suddenly everywhere with automatic rifles – yelling at us to leave the grounds. White House staffers were racing out the doors. Some from the White House; others from the old Executive Office Building. Tears were streaming down the cheeks of some of the younger faces; some were literally running out of their shoes. They told us the Secret Service had come into their offices saying there was another plane and it might be headed for the White House.

We went directly across to Lafayette Park. Tim and Megan Shattuck, another remarkably gifted White House producer at the time, kept tabs of our crews and we all tried to relay whatever we could see and find out back to the bureau. Keeping a cell connection was incredibly hard – everyone was trying to call someone.

The Secret Service was screaming to get back, and I remember telling Tim I was going to stay as close as I could to the White House – to keep it in my sight in case a plane hit. “You cant file if you’re dead.” Tim has a way with words. I compromised and moved back a little into the park.

At one point we looked up and there was a giant plane over the White House – where no planes are allowed to fly. Cameraman Mike Bannigan captured the moment; it was a US government plane somehow scrambled to the airspace over the Capitol/White House area. Exactly how and why is a question I cant answer six years later.

We eventually went to a CNN affiliated office in a building with a rooftop overview of the White House and we filed live reports from there throughout the day. It was stifling hot on top of everything else.

The President at that point was beginning his two-stop journey back to Washington as they tried to figure out if it was safe enough.

Our priorities were to find out where the vice president was, what if anything the government knew about who and why and how many. Cell phones and home phone numbers were the coin of the realm – no one was in their office in official Washington anymore. Sometime that morning after a conversation with a senior national security official I remember reporting the White House believed the attacks carried an unmistakable signature: Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

We could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon across the Potomac. My kids were sent home from school and went to a neighbor’s house.

Karen Hughes would give a briefing in Washington trying to convey a sense of normalcy on the day that had none. “Undisclosed location” would in a few hours take its place in our lexicon. I had been around long enough to know that deep underground across the street in the complex they had evacuated was a bunker and command center designed to withstand a nuclear blast. There, Dick Cheney was running the show and advising The President to take a slow route back until they knew more.

New York was the center of our coverage and for horrific and obvious reasons. Our job was to try to figure out who and how and whether the government was operating at anywhere near the level necessary. You don’t have time to think and comprehend at those moments. You keep dialing, and reporting what you know.

Our President is stubborn, and love him or hate him he decided he not only was coming home but that his helicopter was landing on the South Lawn of the White House. For that, give the man some credit. It was an important statement. Decoy helicopters suddenly became the routine … only one had the president aboard.

We were allowed back into the White House and The President addressed the nation.

My daughter was four at time and knew something horrible had happened but wasn’t quite able to comprehend. I said goodnight during a break when our coverage was focused on NY. My son was barely eight, old enough to know what the word “war” means but young enough to have no idea what it really means. I asked him if he was ok, and he asked if it was dangerous for me to be at the White House, and was I ok? I remember crying for the first time that day.

It was into the early morning hours when it was decided a few hours sleep was probably a good idea. I had just moved into an apartment near the Pentagon and so I was able to get home in about 10 minutes from the White House. Out my window was the still smoldering wreckage and the hole in the wall. If my memory is right it was about 2:30 am.

I was back at the White House at 6:00 am.”

Everyone at johnthenewsking, the Yahoo group and all of our regular readers and posters wish to thank John for taking a moment to share his reflections.

I’m not very good at putting together patriotic words to explain what is in my heart, but I will nonetheless try.

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No matter how you will be remembering September 11th today, let us not forget that the united conciousness we experienced that day is something we should strive to emulate every day…. even in the small gestures we do or say during our daily grind, let us never forget how united we were that day and how united we still should still strive to be.

Here is a poem by Mattie Stepanek I find especially fitting:

On Growing Up

We are growing up,
We are many colors of skin
We are many languages
We are many ages and sizes.
We are many countries…
But we are one with the earth.
We each have one heart.
We each have one life;
We are growing up, together,
So we must live as one family

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4 Comments

Filed under September 11th

4 responses to “America Remembers

  1. Jeanne

    Many thanks to John for writing this excellent piece – as always, I enjoy his work and the way he presents his stories. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could also write a book about his coverage of world events? I live in north central Pennsylvania – on the New York and Pennsylvania state borders. We felt like we were in the center of everything on that day. We are a four hour drive from New York City, and a six hour drive from Washington, DC. I was at work that day and just happened to walk through the living room of our School of Nursing (my office is located in the bottom floor of the building as we have various offices also in this building.). The tv was on and as I saw the planes crashing into the towers, my first thought was that something was wrong with the air traffic controllers. As the news spread through my office, we all went back upstairs to the living room to catch the news for a few minutes. Everyone was shocked. I went back to my office and turned on the radio for updates and remember thinking how scary this was getting as we are in the center of all this and how I suddenly wanted to pick up my kids from school and hug them and make sure they were safe.

  2. Millie, thanks for shring this with us. It’s interesting to read John’s take on the events of that day. It was nice of him to share this with us. It’s sweet how he is always thinking of his children.

    Today am I keeping those affected by the terrible events of that day in my thoughts.

  3. milliepip

    Yes, I find it especially touching that he was worried about his son being ok, yet his 8 year old was equally worried just the other way around.

    I can’t imagine what that must have been like to live so close to the Pentagon that you could actually see smoke out your apartment window. Scary! I mean, we all have watched the horrible images from TV, but to have it literally in your back yard like that is too close for comfort.

    I was getting ready for work (teaching 4th grade) and I was practically out the door when the first report on CNN came in. I was on a 30 minute drive so I missed much of the initial reports. By the time I got to school, settled the kiddos in, and turned on the classroom TV, the first tower had just fallen. At first I LITERALLY thought I had mis-heard what Peter Jennings had said. One of the towers had FALLEN? Surely my ears deceived me. But no….

    We were all glued to the TV and saw the second tower fall. In hindsight, I’ve always wondered if if was such a good idea to allow the class to watch the events unfolding on TV – but no one really knew what was going on and we had no way of knowing that things were just going to go from bad to worse.

    I often think of those kids (juniors in High School now) and I’m sure they remember having been in my classroom watching everything live on TV. That was their “where I was” moment.

    It was hard to answer their questions at the time when I knew so little myself about what was going on!!!

  4. mebz72

    Today is a beautiful day here in mid-Missouri, the sky is clear, bright blue and there is just the hint of coolness in the air that is marking the slow shift to fall. It really is a wonderful day to spend outside in the fresh air. I mention this because it was just this picture perfect 6 years ago. I remember sitting on the deck behind our house looking at the sky. It was cloudless, and usually you can see the jets high above starting to line up to land in St. Louis 75 miles away. But there were none that day.
    I was still in college then, I skipped my afternoon class to come home.
    I remember how quite it was, in the middle of the afternoon, no cars, no planes. Any other day I would have called it peaceful. Any other day I might not have even noticed.
    I have often thought since, that 9/11 was the national equivalent of someone shaking us awake. We opened our eyes that day to the realities of the world. Have we already gone back to sleep? Do we go back to our dreams?
    Some of you might know that I work as a minister. Don’t worry, I’m not here to preach. In fact, it doesn’t bother me at all if you are religious or not; christian or not. We here in the USA have to luxury of believing what we wish. And what sticks in my mind was on that day we believed in each other. The lasting impression for me from 9/11 was all of those policemen, firemen and volunteers who stood up that day. There was so much pain and fear that day, but there was also bravery and compassion.
    I’m not sure why I’m getting so sentimental here, I’m usually the one with the silly comments, I guess it’s something in the air.

    I wanted to say thank you to John King for sharing his thoughts with us. I find it sweet, that he would take time out of what I’m sure is a crazy, hectic schedule to write something for a little blog such as ours, so thank you.

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