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White House insider tells students of 9/11
Marine helped in evacuation
Lt. Col. Robert Darling - photo by Submitted
Students at Lakeside Middle School lined up for autographs after hearing a retired Marine’s account of events that occurred in the White House on Sept. 11, 2001.

Lt. Col. Robert Darling spoke to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders Friday about his experiences as an attack helicopter pilot and an officer in the White House military office.

“Sept. 11, 2001, had nothing to do with what America did wrong,” Darling said. “It has everything to do with what this country does right.”

Darling has written “24 Hours Inside the President’s Bunker: 9/11/01: The White House” about what he experienced on the day terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania.

Darling explained how on that day he worked in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center in a bunker below the White House.

Then-President George W. Bush had been reading to children at a school in Sarasota, Fla., at the time of the attacks.

The president was picked up and taken to a bunker in Nebraska, Darling said, but returned to the White House that night.

Darling explained that during the day, Bush checked in by phone to see how many people had been killed.

He said after the first tower fell, the president was told the death toll was 20,000, but no one had checked with Rudy Giuliani, then New York City’s mayor.

“Then the Pentagon collapsed and we told him another 800 to 1,000. But when the second tower came down he was back on the phone, and we said 40,000 dead was our best guess,” Darling said.

“He didn’t make a sound. He was just overwhelmed at that number. And that’s when he came back and said what is Giuliani saying, what are the hospitals reporting, what’s FEMA saying. And he started getting testy, saying what are we doing right now for the people of New York and nobody had an answer for the president.”

Darling said at that point, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in the room with Darling and others, turned off the speakerphone.

The actual number of those killed in the attacks is 2,976, Darling said.

He said the White House was evacuated before the fourth plane crashed. On his way to the bunker, he saw that the facility was in a state of panic.

Northern and southern gates on the campus were open and Secret Service agents yelled through bullhorns for women to remove their shoes so they could run because another plane was headed that way.

“It was an unbelievable sight to watch,” Darling said.

Once inside the bunker, Darling was asked to help answer phones. The first call was from the White House Situation Room. Another hijacked plane was 16 miles south of Pittsburgh en route to Washington, D.C.

Darling turned and there stood Cheney, wanting to know what was going on.

The military was preparing to take down the fourth plane, but the passengers on board caused it to crash in a field before it left Pennsylvania.

“They fought back against these terrorists and they defeated them,” Darling said.

“Unfortunately, the plane crashed. But it never reached its target. That plane was headed to Washington, D.C., and thanks to these American heroes it never made it.”