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Sandy Kress: I flew with the president to Florida

03:20 PM CDT on Sunday, September 10, 2006

I went with him to Florida that day to kick-start discussions on the education bill I actually have the trip manifest from Air Force One, which I'm going to keep and briefed him that very morning in his suite, literally moments before the first plane hit.

One of the most vivid memories of the day was being with him that morning. The day was so beautiful. It was crisp and clear, all the way up the East Coast. I remember this feeling in his little suite it was just so palpable.

The president is a very punctual person, but that morning he was just sitting back and wanting to talk for a bit. It was kind of like the old days when he was governor or when he was in Dallas. It was a little uncharacteristic because it went past the time for the schedule for the motorcade. That struck me as unusual. I had the feeling later that these were the last moments he was going to have, ever, in the old world, in the pre-9/11 world.

[After the second plane hit], the president comes in, he makes the remarks that were shown nationally, and, as he's about to finish, we race to the motorcade and it speeds out of there. We go to Air Force One, and they check us in ways they never have before. We get on the plane, and it lifts off immediately, and it lifts off at an angle I've never lifted off at an angle like that.

It was terrifying. There were some thoughts of maybe they're coming after him, maybe they're coming after the plane. One thing that was telling was the experience of the plane turning. We were headed to D.C., but I remember a congressmen saying, "That's not the Atlantic; that's the Gulf of Mexico." We went to the Air Force base in Louisiana. And you're thinking about all the people in the towers, what this means for the country.

Then the decision was made that all but about 10 people on the plane were going to get off and that we would all go back to D.C. on the vice president's plane. That was the first time I talked to my wife. Later, as we were approaching Washington, we could see the Pentagon burning. That was a memory I'll never forget.

In a way, we'll never be the same. We're into a new world. The president reminds us of it frequently. We're part of the broader world more than we were before. Some things happened No Child Left Behind passed in part because people came back together as a response to 9/11 and because of a feeling that we needed to put petty differences aside and get something done.

But in some ways, the world hasn't changed. We've gotten back to petty bickering. It seems like that's in our blood.

Sandy Kress is a lawyer in Austin.

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