By VIMAL PATEL
Texas A&M's acting Bush School dean was part of an indelible moment in American history: As President George W. Bush's chief of staff, he whispered into Bush's ear that the U.S. was under attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
Andrew Card walked over to Bush, who was sitting in front of a classroom of second-graders at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Fla., to promote a reading initiative.
Before Bush had entered the classroom, a White House staffer had informed him that it appeared a small twin-engine plane crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers in New York.
"So that was what President Bush knew before the principal even opened the door and let him in the classroom," Card said. "Our collective response was, 'What a terrible accident.'"
The door shut, and the same staffer approached Card, he said.
"It appears it was not a small twin-engine prop plane," Card recalled the staffer saying. It was a commercial jetliner.
"Then a nanosecond later, the same staffer came to me and said, 'Oh my gosh. Another plane has hit the other tower at the World Trade Center.'"
Chiefs of staff routinely have to perform the difficult test of deciding whether a president needs to know about something, Card said. The test on that day was easy.
As news media were along a wall in the back of the room, Card walked to Bush and leaned in.
"I told him, 'A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack,'" Card said. "I said it very slowly, very distinctly, and I didn't invite a question or dialogue from him."
Card stepped back.
The next moments have been widely criticized. Instead of immediately leaving, Bush spent several minutes continuing to listen as the students read children's story The Pet Goat.
Card defends his boss. In fact, he says, he was grateful Bush didn't get up. It allowed him to set up shop: get the FBI director on the phone, get a line open to Vice President Dick Cheney, order the Secret Service to turn the motorcade back around and get speechwriters to work on the remarks America would be expecting from him in moments.
"There's not a doubt in my mind he was reflecting on his responsibilities," Card said. "I was pleased he did nothing to introduce fear to those kids. He did nothing to demonstrate fear to the media, which would have been translated to the satisfaction of terrorists all around the world."
Card said his goal when selected by Bush to serve as his chief of staff was to have no one know his name. It was those few seconds captured by the cameras that ended that goal.
"My anonymity changed on [that] fateful day," he said.