- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Part 3 of 3

The United States launched its counterattack on Osama bin Laden's terror network in Afghanistan one year ago today. Bill Sammon, senior White House correspondent for The Washington Times, tells the inside story of President Bush's war on terror in his new book, "Fighting Back" (Regnery).

A funereal rain fell as President Bush slipped inside the English oak doors of the National Cathedral.
He was led into a small sacristy, where the heavy chains of iron chandeliers cast strange shadows across gothic arches. On an easel set up at one end, church officials sketched out the logistics of the unprecedented service that was about to begin.
Mr. Bush had declared this day Sept. 14, 2001 as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. He would be delivering his first formal speech since September 11 and hoped it would be a turning point for a grieving nation. But the president also realized that this hastily organized service needed to strike the right note.
The cathedral's head verger, Stephen Lott, explained that he would lead Mr. Bush to the pulpit when it came time for his speech.
"No," the president said. "I want to go by myself."

The trick for the president was to talk about the nation's grief without wallowing in it. At the same time, he wanted to stir America to action without seeming insensitive.
"I prayed a lot before the speech because I felt like it was a moment where I needed, well, frankly, for the good Lord to shine through," Mr. Bush told The Washington Times in one of a series of extensive interviews in the Oval Office and aboard Air Force One about September 11 and its aftermath.
Seven carefully selected religious leaders including a Jewish rabbi, a Muslim imam and a Catholic bishop preceded the president in addressing the diplomats, military officers, captains of industry, congressmen, Supreme Court justices and former presidents gathered beneath the cathedral's 150-foot-high ceiling.
The last of the preachers to speak was the Rev. Billy Graham, the world-famous evangelist who had changed Mr. Bush's life 16 years earlier by inspiring him to turn to Jesus Christ and, eventually, away from the bottle. As the 82-year-old Mr. Graham finished his message and struggled down the nine steps, someone in the first pew stood up and began clapping loudly.
Bush administration officials were mortified to discover that the person leading what was now a standing ovation was former President Bill Clinton. They considered this a contemptible breach of protocol. If anyone should lead a standing ovation at this service, it should be President Bush.
White House aides were furious that the notoriously self-absorbed former president would draw attention to himself. Mr. Bush nonetheless stood to join the ovation.
Determined to deliver
Shortly it was the president's turn to take the podium.
"We are here in the middle hour of our grief," he began, in a firm voice that seemed to fill the cathedral. "We come before God to pray for the missing and the dead, and for those who love them."
Mr. Bush later told The Times: "I usually am the kind of speaker that tries to connect with the audience to see how I am doing. Frankly, if I see somebody that doesn't think I'm doing well, I'll switch to another person.
"And I saw I can't remember her name one of the press advance girls, who was just weeping. I felt that I wasn't going to be able to deliver completely deliver the speech."
Searching for another focal point, Mr. Bush dared not gaze at the first pew.
"My biggest concern was looking at my parents," he recalled. "If I looked down at my mother and dad, and they'd be weeping, then I'd weep.
"And so I didn't look at them. And I, you know, didn't look at much."
But the president ably delivered the carefully crafted speech, closing with an appeal to faith from Scripture (Romans 8:38-39): "As we have been assured, neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, can separate us from God's love."
No one clapped as the president finished and walked back to take his seat in complete silence. Mr. Clinton's eyes were pinned on Mr. Bush.
First lady Laura Bush, smiling serenely and looking straight ahead, discreetly patted her husband's leg eight or nine times with the back of her hand.
"It was a touching moment," Mr. Bush said.
The 16 uniformed members of the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters led the singing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to the accompaniment of trumpets and the 10,600-pipe Great Organ.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, considered such a tough guy that the Texas Republican is nicknamed "The Hammer," was among many in tears while singing these words:
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.

Smoke, ash and emotion
The president would struggle with his emotions again a few hours later as he arrived in Lower Manhattan for a tour of ground zero. He halted the motorcade when he noticed a dozen ash-caked firemen lined up in their gear and oxygen tanks.
Mr. Bush hopped out and walked over to greet the firefighters. When he got to the fourth one a big, burly guy the president stopped. Two enormous tears rolled down the brute's cheeks. Mr. Bush reached out and cupped the fireman's face in his hand.
The scene prompted other grown men to break down. One was Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, himself a former fireman.
Minutes later, the president pulled up at ground zero as a fighter jet roared overhead. He waded into a sea of police, firefighters, paramedics and rescue workers, a motley crew of mostly unshaven men wearing haggard expressions and filthy clothing.
"It was so surreal," Mr. Bush recalled. "Smoke coming out it was like a movie set, except it was real. It was unbelievable. It was gray. It was ash. And there was slosh all over the ground, and soot, and emotion."
As he moved from man to man, the president clapped each on the shoulder or draped an arm around him. He briefly donned a fireman's hat.
"God bless you," he heard the men say. "We're proud of you."
One called out: "Don't let 'em get away with it, George!"
Mr. Bush had not prepared any formal remarks, yet the workers seemed eager to hear from their president. For every hardhat he thanked in person, hundreds more were jostling for a glimpse. They pressed in from all sides.
Secret Service security protocols went out the window. The setting itself was dangerous. Fires burned beneath the rubble. Smoke was everywhere. The place was shrouded in a toxic haze. Underground cavities were collapsing. Badly damaged buildings threatened to topple at any moment.
To bring a sitting president into such a volatile environment was unprecedented.
To complicate matters, Mr. Bush was trailed by New York's congressional delegation. White House officials noted with dismay that Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, seemed to be maneuvering into camera shots. They thought the hulking lawmaker was getting in the way of the Secret Service, which already was on edge.
One Bush aide told Mr. Nadler three times to give the president some space.
"I'm a U.S. congressman," Mr. Nadler protested.
"I don't give a [expletive] who you are," the aide shot back.
'I can hear you'
The president seemed oblivious to the dustup. He felt somehow protected as he moved among these rough-hewn men who kept calling him by his first name.
His presence seemed to stir their weary souls into an excitement that verged on rowdiness, especially among the ironworkers.
Nina Bishop, on the White House advance team, could sense it. She approached Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, and Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, and suggested that the president speak to the hardhats as a group.
Miss Bishop darted into tents erected by rescue agencies and utilities until she found a bullhorn to borrow. She discovered the bullhorn did not work very well when she blew into the mouthpiece, but the president was nearing the spot where Mr. Rove and Mr. Card had decided he should speak. So she hustled over and passed the bullhorn up to the president.
Mr. Bush, standing atop a crushed firetruck with an arm around a startled veteran fireman named Bob Beckwith, at first had trouble making himself heard.
"We can't hear you!" the hardhats shouted.
The president pulled the bullhorn closer to his lips and pumped up his voice.
"I can hear you," he yelled, prompting laughter, cheers and whistles.
"I can hear you," the president repeated, holding one finger aloft.
"The rest of the world hears you," he said, extending two fingers and pointing behind him at the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
"And the people," he began, interrupted by more clapping and cheers.
"And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!" Mr. Bush vowed, jabbing his index finger in the air.
A God-given moment
"YEAAAHHH!" the men roared.
They punched their fists skyward and let loose with war whoops. When one began barking like a dog, others took up the cry: "WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!"
The catharsis was extraordinary. After three days of grimly digging bits of their brethren from this filthy, smoldering slag heap, the workers were overflowing with righteous indignation.
It was as if the commander in chief had given them permission to vent the rage and frustration and sorrow coursing through their exhausted bodies and shell-shocked brains.
Mr. Bush lifted the bullhorn to his lips. He was about to say something more when a voice rang out: "USA! USA!" Someone else picked up the chant: "USA! USA!"
In a heartbeat, the whole lot of them were throwing back their heads and roaring lustily: "USA! USA! USA! USA!"
Mr. Bush dropped the bullhorn to his side. He never before had witnessed such an overt, spontaneous display of raw patriotism. These were not the same tired, disaffected men who had begun to heckle him moments earlier. These were patriots the go-for-broke sort that America hadn't seen in 60 years.
The president and his speechwriters had spent so much time crafting his address for the VIPs back at the National Cathedral. His aides had been so worried about striking just the right note.
And now here he was firing off a few impromptu remarks through a defective bullhorn to a bunch of hard-core New York union workers virtually all of them Democrats who probably had voted for Al Gore.
Yet in this imperfect, electrifying moment, the nation seemed to come alive again.
"It was one of those defining moments in American history," Mr. Bush recalled. "It was just one of those spontaneous things where it just popped right out. It wasn't planned, it wasn't thought about, it wasn't scripted. It just happened.
"And maybe that's the way it should be," he added. "The American people don't like to be kind of fooled. They don't want script, particularly in these moments. I believe they want feeling and emotion and honesty honesty isn't the right word, but honest feeling.
"It was just one of those God-given moments where it worked out fine because it sent the right kind of message to the country."
Hoping against hope
The president handed off the bullhorn and headed back to the truncated motorcade, which drove him three miles north to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center for a meeting with several hundred people who had lost loved ones in the attacks.
"I don't want any press in here," Mr. Bush instructed a White House staffer. "I don't want a lot of elected officials in here. We're not gonna make a spectacle out of this."
The president began greeting anguished family members, all of whom had gut-wrenching stories.
"It was hard," Mr. Bush recalled. "Everybody felt like their loved one was alive at this point. And I had just come from a scene of incredible devastation."
More than 72 hours had passed since the attacks. Although the hardhats technically were conducting a "rescue" operation, it was becoming an effort to recover bodies.
Yet many of these family members refused to give up hope. They wanted the president to see and hold photos of their missing.
"I came up with a formula as to how to deal with that," Mr. Bush recalled. "And that was to say: 'Let me sign this for you, and when you get Bill back, or Joe back, or John back, you tell him he's not going to believe that you saw the president, and this will be proof.'
"That was kind of my way of saying, you know, 'I'm with you, I hope you're right,' and at the same time, kind of add a little humor," he explained. "There's something about the presidency not necessarily the president, but the presidency which brings out kind of a predictable response. People want their picture, people want their autograph in times of happiness and in mourning. And so, we had a lot of pictures taken, and a lot of signing of autographs."
Ravaged by sorrow and sleep deprivation, some of those in the enclosure literally were holding up one another as the president methodically made his way through the crowd.
"My son is a Marine," one said. "If anybody can get out, he can."
A woman asked the president to sign a picture of her husband. He complied and she tucked the photo into her purse.
"I'm sure we're gonna get him out of there," Mr. Bush assured her. "We're gonna get him out."
A beefy guy carried a small child, 4 or 5 years old, who pointed to a picture of the man's brother and announced, "That's my daddy."
A son's shield
The raw emotion was overwhelming. Again and again, the president asked to be told about their loved ones. Again and again, he listened and cried and hugged them. Almost everyone was weeping.
"I wept with family members, I hugged dads," Mr. Bush said. "I was supposed to be there for, like, 30 minutes. We stayed for a couple of hours. And it was the right thing to do. I saw every single person there."
A 9-year-old girl and her 11-year-old brother were so nervous about meeting the president that they clung to their mother. The boy summoned his courage and approached, clutching a brown teddy bear in one hand and a photo of his father in the other.
The president looked at the department-issue photo of a fireman in uniform and asked for the father's name. He signed it and handed it back.
The boy looked at the picture and sobbed. Mr. Bush reached out, hugged the boy around the head and waist, and pulled him close. He held him for a long time.
Families stood in clusters and respectfully kept their distance while others were comforted by the president. After nearly two hours, he had met with just about everyone in the room.
An elegantly dressed woman sat off to one side, though. She was surrounded by several grown sons and a variety of grandchildren, all wearing suits and ties.
Mr. Bush, who knew it was time to leave, approached them. The woman introduced herself as Arlene Dillon, mother of a New York City police officer named George Howard. She pressed something into the president's hand, closing her palm over his.
"This is my son's shield," she said quietly, as the president leaned close. "It was on him and I want you to have it, just to remember. My son would want you to have it, too."
Mr. Bush took the shield, unearthed by the bucket brigades, and put it in his pocket. The woman beamed at him.
Winds of war
It was dark by the time the president departed the convention center. His motorcade headed north on 12th Avenue and turned east on 42nd Street. The sidewalks were filled with people, five and six deep, clutching candles and signs: "God bless America," "God bless the USA," "God bless you, President Bush."
The crowd grew denser as the motorcade progressed. There were thousands and thousands of candles.
People lined up 40 deep in Times Square, many weeping. As the president's limousine approached, a great roar filled the air, rising high above the motorcade to a giant neon news ticker scrolling the latest headline: "BUSH CALLS UP 50,000 RESERVISTS."
The winds of war were blowing through Times Square.
The president's helicopter soon lifted him over the ocean and on to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. As Mr. Bush walked across the tarmac to board Air Force One, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer intercepted him to say that Congress had just voted to authorize the use of force.
The resolution passed the Senate 98-0 and the House 420-1. The lone dissenter was Rep. Barbara Lee, California Democrat, a leftist radical from Berkeley. Mr. Fleischer had drafted a presidential reaction for the press and needed Mr. Bush to sign off on it.
"I am gratified that the Congress has united so powerfully by taking this action," the statement said. "It sends a clear message our people are together, and we will prevail."
Mr. Bush approved the statement. The two men talked about his meeting with the families. The president said he felt "whipped" by the emotionally draining experience, not to mention the rest of a long day that had begun with a difficult speech about "the middle hour of our grief."
And now Friday, Sept. 14, was ending with Congress uniting behind the president's desire to unleash the "terrible swift sword" of the U.S. military. Yes, Mr. Bush felt whipped, but he also felt good, he confided to his press secretary.
Mr. Bush knew that September 11 was the day everyone would remember. But as far as the president was concerned, Sept. 14 was nearly as important.
It was the day that America began to shake off despair and set about the task at hand fighting back.

Part II: The president, aloft in Air Force One, navigates "the fog of war."

Part I: An attack on America transforms the Bush presidency.

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