DALLAS - Terry Abbott shared a unique first hand account of traveling with the president on 9/11 with a group of seniors at Skyline High School on Thursday.
"I flew down with the President on September 10th," Abbott said. "My one and only time on Air Force One was September 10th, 2001."
Abbott said President George W. Bush did the right thing by sitting in that Sarasota school ten years ago and not overreacting to his chief of staff's whisper that the country was under attack.
"Had the president looked like he was thrown off his game, jumped up and ran out, the terrorists would have realized that we were off balance, that we were off guard," Abbott explained.
He was Chief of Staff for then Secretary of Education Rod Paige and traveling with the president to promote the No Child Left Behind legislation.
"President Bush walked into that school as the Education President," Abbott said. "He was working on No Child Left Behind, which was supposed to be his signature domestic policy. He walked out of that school as war-time president. It changed just like that."
"The White House told us we're going to get the President out of here right away," Abbott continued. "We want Rod Paige to stay behind and finish this event. Work with the kids and make sure they're OK, and then he can get out of there."
But Bush left without Abbott and Paige on Air Force One, even though their luggage was already stowed on board.
Minutes later, sheriff's deputies whisked Secretary Paige and Abbott away to a hotel in Tampa, which was an "undisclosed location" at the time.
"One of the first things I had to do when we got to the undisclosed location in Tampa," Abbott remembered, "I had to borrow the hotel van and go to a K-Mart to buy clothes for Secretary Paige and me to get around in. We didn't have anything."
Armed Secret Service agents guarded Paige's hotel room, Abbott said, and the military assigned him an aide to keep him informed in case the Continuance of Government Plan was enacted and successors to the presidency were named.
Cabinet secretaries are in the line of succession for the presidency and at the time, Abbott said, Rod Paige was 11th in line.
Pearson Education, a textbook company, made 9/11 lesson plans available on-line for free.
Abbott shared those with students and then colored in details that history didn't capture.
Both made the tragedy a teachable moment for many students too young to remember such vivid details of that day.