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Profile: Gary Walters
Gary Walters was a participant or observer in the following events:
Neil Bush. [Source: Office of George Bush]White House staffers are taking care of the activities of Neil Bush, a younger brother of President Bush, who has just spent the night at the White House. It is unclear why Neil Bush has been staying at the White House. When he later recalls the events of this morning, Gary Walters, the chief White House usher, will only say, “We… had had the president’s brother, Neil, there overnight, so we were taking care of his activities during the day, because he was going out for business.” [C-SPAN, 7/11/2011] After heading out for “business,” Neil Bush will return to the White House later this morning following the terrorist attacks. The Cincinnati Enquirer will report that he “arrived at the White House on the morning of September 11 and found ‘a war atmosphere,’ soldiers with machine guns at every turn.” [Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/29/2002] Details of Neil Bush’s activities later today are unclear. However, he will, like last night, spend tonight at the White House (see 11:08 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 134; New York Times, 9/11/2002] Neil Bush is a businessman who runs Ignite Learning, an educational software company he co-founded in 1999. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/29/2002; Washington Post, 12/28/2003] George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush, the parents of the president, also spent last night at the White House (see (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Andersen, 2002, pp. 2; CNN, 10/25/2003]
The annual Congressional picnic. [Source: Grant Miller / White House]Many staffers at the White House are busy preparing for the annual Congressional picnic at the time the terrorist attacks begin. [Lancaster Newspapers, 9/8/2011; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016] The Congressional picnic is a bipartisan event held on the South Lawn of the White House, which brings together members of Congress, their families, and members of the administration for a casual and lighthearted evening. [CNN, 6/23/2017] An estimated 1,500 to 1,800 people are expected to attend today’s event, which is scheduled to begin at about 7 o’clock this evening. [C-SPAN, 7/11/2011] A caterer from Texas has been helping to prepare the food and a band has been booked to provide music. [Scheib and Friedman, 2007, pp. 255; Bush, 2010, pp. 197; Washington Post, 9/6/2011; Brower, 2015, pp. 256] About 16 White House chefs are busy getting ready for the event. [Lancaster Newspapers, 9/8/2011] Meanwhile, members of the Army are at the southeast gate, delivering mobile kitchens for it. [Scheib and Friedman, 2007, pp. 255] About 170 to 180 picnic tables have already been set up on the South Lawn, along with a stage. [Values in World Thought, 4/4/2006; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016] However, the event will be canceled in response to this morning’s attacks. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Oklahoman, 10/16/2002] Much of the food prepared for it will be given to members of the Secret Service, Washington, DC, police, and National Guard who respond to the crisis, and to staffers who stay behind after the White House is evacuated. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Brower, 2015, pp. 265] Some people will later point out how much death and destruction could have resulted if the Congressional picnic had been a target of today’s attacks. (White House press secretary Ari Fleischer publicly announced, four days ago, that the picnic would be taking place on the South Lawn this evening, so terrorists could presumably have learned when they needed to carry out an attack if they wanted to target the event. [White House, 9/7/2001] ) “Had [the attacks] occurred at night and had the White House been a target, [the terrorists] would’ve been able to wipe out the entire United States government,” Gary Walters, the chief White House usher, will comment. [Smithsonian Channel, 2/16/2009] “If the terrorists knew the entire government was going to be on the South Lawn at 5:30 at night, they could have killed everybody,” Representative Rob Andrews (D-NJ) will say. [South Jersey Magazine, 9/2011]
Margaret Spellings. [Source: Harvard University]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, learns of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center while she is leaving the White House, on her way to a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill, but thinks the crash was an accident. [Us Weekly, 10/15/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 197-198] Bush is set to appear before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, to plead for more federal funding of early childhood education. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Andersen, 2002, pp. 2] She is scheduled to arrive at the Russell Senate Office Building, located just north of the Capitol building, at 9:15 a.m. and to appear at the hearing there at 10:00 a.m. [USA Today, 9/10/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 197]
Secret Service Agent Tells First Lady of Crash - Members of the White House press corps who will be going to Capitol Hill with the first lady have been watching coverage of the crash in New York on television. However, when she is escorted out of the White House by Gary Walters, the chief usher, Bush is unaware of what has happened. But then, as she is getting into her limousine, Ron Sprinkle, the head of her Secret Service detail, leans over and whispers in her ear that he has just been informed that a plane has hit the WTC. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 197]
First Lady Thinks Crash Is an Accident - Bush speculates about what could have happened with Andi Ball, her chief of staff, and Margaret Spellings, the White House domestic policy adviser, who are with her at this time. [Kessler, 2006, pp. 135; Bush, 2010, pp. 197-198] Bush does not think the crash was due to terrorism. “Of course, at that time we thought it was just some weird freak accident,” she will later recall. [Us Weekly, 10/15/2001; Gerhart, 2004, pp. 162]
Motorcade Subsequently Heads for Capitol Hill - The exact time when Sprinkle informs Bush of the crash is unclear. According to Walters, it happens “at 8:55.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Us Weekly magazine will place the incident at “[j]ust before 9 a.m.” [Us Weekly, 10/15/2001] But Bush will write that she is told of the crash “a few minutes after 9:00 a.m.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 197] Bush’s limousine and motorcade will leave the White House at 9:07 a.m., several minutes after the second plane hits the WTC, according to Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Bush will learn of the second crash, and realize this is a terrorist attack, shortly before arriving at the Russell Office Building (see (9:14 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2002; Gerhart, 2004, pp. 162; Bush, 2010, pp. 198]
First Lady's Testimony before Congress Expected to Be 'Big News' - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, invited Bush to appear before his committee today. [USA Today, 9/10/2001; Gerhart, 2004, pp. 160] Bush is set to become only the fourth first lady to testify before Congress. [USA Today, 9/6/2001; Us Weekly, 10/15/2001] Rodriguez will recall that before receiving the news of the crash in New York, with Bush’s planned appearance at the hearing ahead, “We expected it to be a big news day for us.” Kennedy will say, “There was a lot of anticipation about [Bush’s] presence, a lot of the excitement.” [CNN, 9/11/2002] The hearing will be canceled as a result of the attacks in New York. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
Gary Walters. [Source: C-SPAN]Gary Walters, the chief White House usher, and a few of his colleagues take the time to clear up the White House grounds ready for when President Bush returns, and even continue with the task after the White House is evacuated. Earlier this morning, many White House staffers were busy preparing for the annual Congressional picnic, which was scheduled to take place this evening (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). About 170 to 180 picnic tables have been set up on the South Lawn for the event. After he learns that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Walters decides to start moving the picnic tables off the lawn so Bush’s helicopter will be able to land on the grounds when the president returns to the White House. [National Journal, 8/31/2002; Values in World Thought, 4/4/2006; Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016]
Usher Arranges to Clear the Lawn - He coordinates with the National Park Service, which is in charge of the White House grounds, to determine who will be clearing away the picnic tables. [Brower, 2015, pp. 257] He then sets about moving the tables. “I got the staff together and started sending them out to the south grounds—anybody I could think of—because I knew that we had to try to move as quickly as possible,” he will later recall. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] However, at about 9:45 a.m., the White House is evacuated after the Secret Service learns of a possible threat against it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 2001 ; CNN, 9/12/2001]
Staffers Continue Clearing the Grounds, despite the Danger - Around this time, Walters sees the smoke coming from the Pentagon, which was attacked at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and realizes the White House could be hit next. And yet he decides that he needs to stay where he is in order to clear up the grounds. “As far as I was concerned, my responsibility was there at the White House,” he will comment. [Brower, 2015, pp. 258] “I knew we had to get those tables out,” he will state, adding, “I even felt more urgency, since obviously this was a coordinated attack now.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] While the Secret Service is ordering people to run for their lives, Walters grabs a few of his colleagues and tells them they need to stay and help clear away the picnic tables. “I got the word that everybody was evacuating, but we had something that we needed to do,” he will comment. [Brower, 2015, pp. 258] After hearing that another suspicious plane is approaching, however, Walters and his colleagues go to the southeast knoll, a rise in the White House lawn, and just stand there, watching the sky and waiting.
Lawn Is Cleared by Early Afternoon - By around 11:00 a.m., they are becoming impatient. Walters therefore says, “Guys, let’s go move some picnic tables.” The men then start carrying the picnic tables off the lawn. A police officer joins them and eventually about a dozen people are helping them to move the tables. By around 1:00 p.m. all of the tables have been removed from the lawn. At about 3:45 p.m., Walters is called by someone from the military, who asks him to clear the South Lawn so the president’s helicopter will be able to land there. Walters laughs and says this has already been done. [National Journal, 8/31/2002] The president’s helicopter, with Bush on board, will land on the South Lawn at around 6:55 p.m. (see (6:54 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001; Rove, 2010, pp. 263]
Usher Will Later Justify His Actions - Walters will, in 2016, explain why he made the effort to clear up the White House grounds, despite the danger to himself and his colleagues. “One of the things that I turned to in my own mind on 9/11 was the role that the White House plays in disasters, wars,” he will say, adding, “People have a tendency to turn to the White House.” He will continue: “And I knew that the president wasn’t gonna be satisfied talking from a bunker somewhere or away from the White House. And that’s why we put the effort that we did into cleaning up the south grounds, so that [his] helicopter could land there. That was what the American people were used to seeing—the presidential helicopter coming in—and the president was going to address the nation from the Oval Office.” [Peter Schnall, 7/12/2016]
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