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Mitt Romney And Barack Obama Reflect On Where They Were On September 11th

Obama was on his way to a meeting. Romney on Capitol Hill to secure funding for the Olympics.

Posted on September 11, 2012, at 10:04 a.m. ET

"At that point we started evacuating the building."

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"It smelled like war."

"The morning of September 11, 2001, I was in Washington, D.C., working on security preparations for the Games. The last $13 million in federal appropriations required by our plan had been included in the Senate budget but missed by the House of Representatives. There had been confusion in the House committee about a similar figure requested by the FBI. They had mistakenly deleted what they thought was a redundancy. We were anxious to meet with key legislators to clear up the confusion and reconfirm their support.

We had planned to be in New York City on the 11th. That was the date originally set by our public relations people for announcing the names of our Olympic torchbearers. Our team had planned an elaborate press conference adjacent to the World Trade Center at Battery Park. But we delayed the announcement in New York to accommodate our meeting on Capitol Hill.

Cindy Gillespie had scheduled a meeting with House and Senate appropriators in the U.S. Capitol building for 10:00 a.m. on the 11th. I met Cindy at 8:00 a.m. to put the finishing touches on our presentation. She had an office in the Ronald Regan building on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the White House. I was on the phone to Salt Lake City, doing a radio interview. The interviewer interrupted to say there were reports that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I hung up and turned on the small TV in the office.

Like so many other Americans, I watched in horror as flames poured from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I called my wife Ann; she was watching coverage on the Today show. It seemed like a dreadful accident, Ann wondered out loud how a plane could fly into a building in clear daylight. Could it have been done on purpose? Then a plane hit the other tower. We watched it happen on TV. We were stupefied. These were deliberate acts. This was terrorism.

Soon, damage to the Pentagon was reported, absent any video footage. The worst place to be right then was a government building like the one we were in. It was also pretty obvious that Washington, D.C., would soon be grid locked by a massive evacuation. We left the building and found Cindy’s car.

We drove north toward Alexandria, Virginia, where Cindy shared a house with her sister. Interstate 395 comes within a few hundred yards of the Pentagon, and as we reached the Pentagon exit, we found abandoned cars blocking the two right lanes. Stunned drivers and passengers were leaning on the guardrail to watch the flames coming from the Pentagon. Acrid black smoke poured into our car. It didn’t smell like burning jet fuel or a house fire. It smelled like nothing I had ever smelled before. Like war. Things that do not normally burn ignite and smolder under the extraordinary heat of military ordinance–or in this instance, the heat of a plane filled with fuel penetrating a building at 500 miles per hour. It was combusting concrete and metal that I smelled.

It immediately struck me that the world would never be the same."