Retired Marine recalls coordinating evacuation of the president, being in White House bunker on 9/11

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – One day after the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, one of the people at the center of the White House response to the attack was in the Tri-Cities talking about the experience and about lessons learned.

“It hit us like a sledgehammer at 9:03 a.m. when the second tower was struck,” said Lt. Colonel Bob Darling was on the job at the White House Military Office, Airlift Operations Department, when word arrived that America was under attack.

“We didn’t know if the first tower was an accident or not,” Darling told News Channel 11. “By the time the second plane hit the south tower at 9:03, our world changed forever. We were a nation under attack. By a foreign power or a terrorist organization? We didn’t know. But we knew the role of the Presidency was going to change that very moment.”

Lt. Colonel Darling’s primary mission on 9/11 was to coordinate the airlift of everything necessary to evacuate President Bush to a safe site from a school in Florida where he was making a public appearance when the World Trade Center attacks happened.

“We didn’t know where he was going to go or what decisions he was going to make,” Darling said. “So we went into a standby mode preparing for wherever he decided to go.”

Lt. Colonel Darling was in the White House bunker when it became clear another plane had been hijacked. Top government officials began to track Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on an obvious crash course with Washington DC.

He was there when Vice President Dick Cheney gave the order to shoot down the plane. But before that order could be executed, passengers on the plane fought back and gave their lives to keep it from happening.

Darling said he heard the Vice President say, “At least we have a plane full of heroes instead of a plane full of victims.”

“He knew there was an act of heroism where those passengers fought back and kept the plane from continuing to Washington DC,” Darling said.

18 years later, Darling is retired from the military, running his own consulting company, and traveling the country speaking about 9/11.

“Our country is under a constant state of attack, and if we don’t stay vigilant and if we don’t get ahead of it and we don’t take the necessary pre-emptive action it will happen again.”

Lt. Colonel Darling was the featured speaker at a leadership conference hosted by Bank of Tennessee on Thursday.

You can learn more on his website.

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