The evening of September 10, 2001 I was having dinner with Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne in the VP residence. They were old friends from the President Ford days when I was the head White House photographer, and Dick Cheney was deputy chief of staff, then the chief after his boss Donald Rumsfeld became Ford's Secretary of Defense, (the youngest ever). Cheney and I probably spent more time with the president than anyone outside of his immediate family, and had become close during those days. We made all the trips, rode in the control car just behind the Secret Service follow-up vehicle, and in the senior staff section of Air Force One. I can only equate the relationship to those I formed with certain friends during the Vietnam War who I was with under enemy fire. Working in the White House sometimes had that same feel to it! Everything that evening couldn't have been more normal, and I even slipped him the resume of a friend who was trying to get a job in the administration. Dick said he would see what he could do, and put it into his briefcase to take to work with him the next day. After what happened the next morning, it's probably still there.
”‹September 11. I was getting ready to head over to the Newsweek in Washington where I had a small office. I was a contributing editor for the magazine, doing special photo stories for them. I had the television on watching the CBS morning show when they went live with a picture of the World Trade Center. Shortly before 9 am they said a plane had crashed into it, and you could see an almost cartoon-like silhouette of an airplane that had gone into the building. Smoke was coming out of the building. I was transfixed by the sight, and a few minutes later, shortly after nine a.m., live and in color, a second plane crashed in the other WTC tower. It was in an instant the most horrifying thing I have ever seen, and instantly replaced Jonestown as my worst visual experience. At that point I started out for the Newsweek office, located only a block and half from the White House. At 9:37 am, shortly before I got to Newsweek, an airliner crashed into the Pentagon. By the time I got up to the office, which has a balcony overlooking the Potomac and the Pentagon a mile or so away, I could see the smoke billowing out. At this point, nobody had any idea if more attacks were coming, so I took photos from my vantage point from across the river, and also kept a camera trained on the U.S. Capitol dome. For all we knew that might be next. I continued shooting photos of the Pentagon, and caught a moment of a helicopter going by, then a few minutes later an F-15 fighter jet made a pass above the burning building. I have what may be the only photo of that happening. For the rest of the day I stayed put at the Newsweek office, out on the deck, waiting for something else to happen. The White House just down the street had been given an evacuation order, but fortunately the Pentagon attack was the one and only hit on the Nation's Capital.
September 12. Early in the morning I talked to my old friend from the Ford White House days, Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and he suggested that I ride over to the Pentagon with him. We drove to the scene where Flight 77 had hit the building. It was still dark out, and the building was lit up by a bank of lights. It was an eerie sight. Moments later Rumsfeld's security guards hustled us out because they had received another threat.
Later that day President George W. Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld surveyed the damage. I've never seen a more resolute expression on a man's face as the president turned and walked away from the scene. At that moment there was no doubt in my mind that the President and Rumsfeld were going to do something about this attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and America itself.
A giant flag is unfurled by some of the firefighters who fought the blaze after the terrorist attack to greet President Bush when he arrived at the Pentagon. It was a deeply emotional moment for those who gathered there.
September 13. I was with Sec. Rumsfeld at the Pentagon when another threat came in. We were hustled out to his car by his security agents, and sped away. He was supposed to have a phone conversation with Secretary of State Colin Powell, but Powell suggested he just come over to the State Department instead. We were a couple of blocks away from Powell's office when Rumsfeld ordered his security guys to pull over. We stopped in front of the Federal Reserve building. "Turn around and head back to the Pentagon," he told them. He looked at me and said, "I'm just not going to let these threats keep me jumping, we're going back." I smiled, and said, "You can let me out here." He laughed, and we went back to his office at the Department of Defense. He never left the building again due to a threat.
I spent the next days inside the Pentagon with Don Rumsfeld, and documented him and his team as they geared up for the strike on Afghanistan. I flew with him to the Middle East before the attack, and was there with him in his office when the operation commenced. I also made several trips to Afghanistan and Iraq with him over the next few years, but that's a story for another day!