Sept. 11, 2017 | ASI |
On Thursday, Sept. 7, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto M. Gonzales shared with an audience of University students, faculty, staff and guests stories about his life and time working at the White House. This presentation kicked off the American Studies Institute 2017 Distinguished Lecture Series.
“Working in the White House was incredibly cool,” Gonzales said. “I have yet to meet an American who is not in awe the first time they step into the West Wing. It takes your breath away. It is the most recognized 18 acres in the world.”
Gonzales served ed under President George W. Bush in Washington D.C. as well as in Texas when Bush was governor. During the presentation, University President Bruce McLarty asked Gonzales questions based on his recent book, True Faith and Allegiance: A Story of Service and Sacrifice in War and Peace. Gonzales told about his family and journey to the White House, his education, his time in Washington and his resignation. With 2017 marking the 16th anniversary of 9/11, McLarty also asked Gonzales about his experience on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was in the same terminal as the hijackers, and I always wonder if we ever crossed paths,” Gonzales said. “As we drove past the Capitol, it was eerily quiet with little traffic except for people with machine guns on the corners. They took us to the White House, and they took me to an underground bunker … and we began assessing the legal issues and what authority the president had to deal with this threat including shooting down a commercial airliner to deal with this threat, for example, if he felt that it was a threat. Finally at about 7, we got word that President Bush was coming home.”
Gonzales recalled that Bush had previously spent the day in Florida speaking at elementary schools, and he remembered watching as the president landed on the South Lawn.
“When he got off the helicopter, I was very curious as to what I would see in his face,” Gonzales said. “All of us take our cues from the leader. We greeted him, and he didn’t say a word. He just nodded at us. He was determined, and he was angry.”
Gonzales worked with the president and other White House administration until late into the night to assess the situation and create a plan of action moving forward. Gonzales came back into work the next day at 6 a.m. to a different world.
“Before 9/11, I played golf with the president,” he said. “I never did that after 9/11. Before 9/11, we played horse shoes at the White House. We never played horse shoes at the White House after 9/11. The world changed, and his time became even more valuable.”
In Gonzales’ closing thoughts he shared the great impact Bush had on his life and his career.
“Because of him I would do it again,” Gonzales said. “Another reason I would do it again is that our country needs good people to serve. … God gives all of us these talents and gifts to use for the betterment of society and the betterment of others. I believe you have a greater opportunity to do that in public service.”