Nine years ago today President Bush visited Ground Zero in New York City. One lasting image is of the President, standing on a pile of rubble with his hand on the shoulder of a firefighter named Bob Beckwith, talking to the rescue workers with a bullhorn.
Over the weekend I realized I know most of the people who were with the President at that moment.
Eric Draper was the President’s chief White House photographer for all eight years. He led an incredible team of photographers who captured key moments in the Presidency. Eric is a phenomenal photographer, a good man, and I am proud to have worked with him.
I’d like to share Eric’s photo and comments from Eric and others who were on the scene when it was taken.
(Updated with an addition by Karl Rove)
You can click on the photo for a higher resolution version.
From left to right:
- (partial white shirt) unnamed NYPD;
- (black helmet, in back) unnamed rescue worker;
- (white helmet on head and in hands) Assistant NYFD Chief ?
- (light blue helmet) Al Concordia, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Presidential Protection Division, US Secret Service;
- President Bush;
- retired firefighter Bob Beckwith;
- (blue coat) Carl Truscott, Special Agent in Charge, Presidential Protection Division, US Secret Service; and
- Governor George Pataki.
(I would greatly appreciate help in identifying those whose names I don’t know.)
I describe Administration officials below with the job titles they had at the time.
Eric Draper, White House Photographer:
I remember standing at the site which still smoldered from the terrorist attack three days earlier. President Bush had just finished touring Ground Zero and embracing and talking with hundreds of firefighters. As the White House Photographer, I focused on capturing the strong emotion there. I had to press my way through the crowd to stay with the President, who was being guided to a spot to speak. I was close enough to the President to touch his legs if I tried, so I had to use my widest camera lens. When he said, “I can hear you,” I knew it was going to be a powerful, historic moment. I watched my President lead the country through its shock and grief.
Eric reports that the photo was taken with a Nikon N90 camera, 17-35 zoom lens on Fujichrome 400 film. Shutter speed 500/2.8.
(My plug for Eric: Eric now runs his own photography business and I highly recommend him.)
Joe Hagin, Deputy Chief of Staff:
Most don’t realize it but he is actually standing on a crushed fire engine – the highest part of what was a huge fire pumper, reduced to about four or five feet high. The firefighter standing with him was actually a retired member of the department who grabbed his old helmet and headed to Ground Zero when he saw what had happened on TV.
Bob Beckwith, the firefighter standing with the President (in a Time magazine story five years ago):
I got home and I told my wife, ‘I’m going down,’ ” he said, referring to the smoldering remains of the Twin Towers.
At first, his family dissuaded him from going to Ground Zero, but after Beckwith discovered that one of his colleague’s sons was one of the hundreds of firefighters missing, he put on his old uniform, strapped on his helmet and went to join the rescue efforts.
Beckwith had to finagle his way into Ground Zero when he approached the heavily guarded perimeter.
“I said, ‘Come on, guys. You know I got to get in there.’ I showed them my identification card from the fire department and so a couple of guys let me through,” Beckwith said.
Once inside the perimeter, Beckwith got a firsthand look at the charred remains of the World Trade Center and immediately began working to find survivors.
“And the president came and he is shaking hands with all the ironworkers and all the cops and all the firemen that were down there … and I figure he’s going over to the microphones, but he makes a quick right, and he puts his arm up and I said, ‘Oh my God!’ ”
After helping the president onto the truck, Beckwith begins to crawl down, but Bush stops him.
“He says, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘Uh, I was told to get down.’ He said, ‘No, no, you stay right here.’ ”
“Do you remember the TIME magazine where the president is holding up the flag? He wanted me to have that flag. I still have it,” Beckwith told CNN.
Logan Walters, personal aide to the President:
Driving to the event there was a real emotional tension, we all knew we were going to a place of epic tragedy in our Nation’s history but the reason for our visit was to provide strength and support to those who were there, and the Americans who would be watching on television. Not a lot of conversation, and because the event had little planning there was little to discuss on the way. We knew there would be unscripted moments that would be seen around the world. The wreckage on the site was terrible, there were several places where smoke was still rising from the ruins of the towers. Beams, wires, concrete and other skeletal remains were visible among the ash. Although many families and friends were still hopeful of finding loved ones, it was apparent upon seeing what was left of the towers that it would take no less than God’s hand to pull a survivor from what was left there. It was a heartbreaking sight. None of us at the White House had slept much since the attack, but we had showered and grabbed a meal or two and some rest. It seemed like no one at Ground Zero had stopped working since they were allowed into the site, and by talking to the people in charge we learned that was generally true. People were literally working to total exhaustion, multiple days without any real rest or food, and were still pushing themselves. No one wanted to give up. We talked to numerous emergency responders as the President walked the site. Most looked exhausted, had ash on their clothes and faces, and were emotionally drained. As the President talked to them, expressing gratitude, consoling some, and encouraging all, you could feel the strength and energy rising. He stepped up on the ruins of the fire engine, was handed the bullhorn, and began to speak. From the other side of Ground Zero, where a large number of the emergency responders had gathered, someone yelled “We can’t hear you!” The President’s response was from his heart, totally unscripted, and everyone felt he power of his words. The site literally erupted with cheers, it was incredible and energized and lifted those working at Ground Zero and those of us traveling with the President. In the end, all of us, I think the President included, left with a renewed energy and strength. Those men and women inspired all of us to work hard and do all that we could to support the President as he worked to protect our Nation. What we came to provide to them, they actually gave to us.
Karen Hughes, Counselor to the President:
I traveled to New York with President Bush on September 14, and will never forget the raw emotions, the incredible sadness, yet, in the end, the enduring inspiration of that day. Although I had seen the images on television, nothing could have prepared me for the moment when our motorcade turned the corner and we saw the still smoldering pile of twisted steel at Ground Zero — it was so horrifying that my hands instinctively covered my face. The rescue workers had been working non-stop for three days. They were exhausted, angry, full of emotion — and they wanted to hear from their President. We had not planned for him to speak, as earlier that day he had delivered a moving address at a national prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington. But we realized that the rescue workers at Ground Zero needed to hear from their President, and our terrific advance staffer, Nina Bishop, went to find a bullhorn. She had the President climb up on a ruined fire truck so people could see him and he kept fire fighter Bob Beckwith up with him — the crowd was shouting they couldn’t hear him — and when he turned and said, “I hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked down these buildings are going to hear from all of us soon,” it summed up the determination of our nation. The President’s remarks were a response to the rescue workers — totally unscripted, perfect for the situation, and standing there, I knew immediately this was an historic moment. I turned to my friend, Joe Allbaugh, the director of FEMA who had been Governor Bush’s chief of staff in Texas, and said, “That’s the person we know, and that’s going to be in his presidential library someday.” It was a day of incredible emotion and sadness — there was literally a hole in the heart of Manhattan — yet in the end, it became a day of inspiration as our motorcade left the city and thousands of New Yorkers lined the streets shouting “Thank you” to the volunteers and “God Bless America!”
Greg Jenkins, advance team:
I was shepherding the pool that day, having arrived with a small team from DC the night before, and was standing next to Draper when he took the photo. Nina Bishop — another advance person — was the one who is responsible for the bullhorn. As the President was shaking hands with first responders it became increasingly clear that he had to say something. Thinking fast, Nina found a bullhorn and when the President stood atop the rubble she simply handed it up to him and he did the rest. Completely unplanned. Totally authentic moment. But the untold story is how the video came to be.
When people recall the television imagery of the President making those remarks atop the rubble, what they don’t know is how that happened. Twice.
The press pool consisted of some print reporters, some still photographers, and one television crew (correspondent, producer and cameraman). Since we were in the middle of Ground Zero, the television camera wasn’t connected to an uplink truck, therefore it was not live. What we didn’t know was that another network some blocks away had a camera on top of a building pointed at Ground Zero. From their vantage point, and as far as they could zoom in, all they could make out was a small cluster of people at Ground Zero (that was us). The producer in our press pool was on his cell phone giving live color commentary to all the networks who were in the pool. The networks also had access to the live shot from the other network from the building some blocks away. When the producer said that the President was about to make some remarks, he held up his phone to get the President’s voice. The networks put the voice of the President broadcast from a cell phone over the live video from the other network, and voila!
The closeup video that we recall of the President’s remarks atop the rubble was actually broadcast later in the day when the pool cameraman was able to feed his closeup video.
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