Former Air Force One pilot remembers 9/11

17 years ago President George W. Bush and his staff were the only ones allowed to fly in the hours following the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

One of those pilots aboard the VC-25, or Air Force One, was Dan Hargrove who now calls Billings home. 

It's a day that Dan called surreal. 

Radios were silent which is odd in a plane according to Dan. 

He said, "this is quite a moment that is happening and yet there's nothing going on."\

That was just one of the thoughts that flew through Air Force One pilot Dan Hargrove's mind on September 11th, 2001. 

He said he very oddly remembers thinking "I feel as though I'm in a hostile situation and that I could be a target."

Dan was flying the backup plane for President Bush that day. 

He remembers once President Bush received word of the attack he instantly boarded Air Force One in route to go anywhere but the Florida school visit he was at. 

"He [President Bush] fought with his staff throughout the day about where he should go. I have a great respect for his leadership desire to come to Washington D.C." Dan said. 

He said they circled above the Gulf of Mexico before deciding to head to Louisiana with the thought process of as long as the President is airborne he can't be attacked. 

Dan recalls a moment where that might not have been the case, "in route we got a call from Air Force One, the call was angel is next."

In other words, Air Force One was next to be attacked. 

Luckily, Dan said, an attack on Air Force One was misinformation but the entire situation was full of chaos and miscommunications. 

When they landed in Louisiana Dan said he was able to make a phone call home to his wife. 

He describes becoming like everyone else in America at that time, "A proud citizen, a concerned citizen, a husband, a father, I was very emotional."

As he looks back at the tragic event Dan said it wasn't just an attack, "we lost our security, kind of lost our innocence as a country, it was very real."

The attack was meant to break us apart according to Dan but instead, it did the opposite. 

He said, "This is a wonderful country, we represent wonderful values, and that's offensive to some people so we need to be vigilant, we must always remember, we must support the military, we must be proud of the military and first responders, the front line, people that really make a difference, and I'm proud to have been just a little part of all of that."

Dan said he likes to remind his students that they are very fortunate to have been born in America and be raised by the families they were raised by. 

He said it's a tremendous blessing to be an American. 

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