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On Sept. 11, Former Bush Solicitor General Remembers His Late Wife

TED OLSON: My name is Ted Olson. I'm a lawyer.


Ted Olson was the solicitor general under George W. Bush. Olson was in his office at the Department of Justice on the morning of September 11, 2001, when he heard there had been an attack in New York City. He didn't know it at first, but his wife, Barbara Olson, was on the plane that was about to crash into the Pentagon.

OLSON: My secretary came in and told me to turn on the television. At that point, the first plane had hit the World Trade Center and not long after that, the second one. As soon as I realized what was happening in New York, I was worried about my wife. She had boarded a plane - I can't recall the scheduled take-off time. It was an American Airlines flight. And the first - when I first realized what was going on in New York, I was very concerned that a plane that she was on could have been one of those planes.

She called me from the airplane. Somehow she got through. I realized that if she was on the phone, she was alive. But when I spoke with her, she told me that her plane had been hijacked. We talked for a minute or two, and then the line went dead. A couple of minutes later, she was able to get through for a second time, and we spoke for another minute or so and the connection went dead the second time.

I dreaded the realization that what had happened to the airplanes in New York was going to happen to her plane. And after the second phone call, we kept watching television. And not too long later, we could see over the television screen smoke coming from the Pentagon. I just knew in my heart that it was her flight. Later, it was confirmed.

We knew then that life would never be the same in this country. Everything that I did professionally as a lawyer, as a government citizen, in my own life with my children and the rest of my family and so forth - you realize that these are very cherished things that you have and that you need to appreciate them. From time to time I do go to the ceremonies at the Pentagon. Every day, I try not to let the significance of that day consume me. Turns out that this Sunday, I'm getting on an airplane and flying to the West Coast. I couldn't avoid it because of a case that I'm handling. But I'd just as soon not do that. It would be nice to just stay at home and enjoy the backyard, but you can't always do that.

MARTIN: That was Ted Olson, solicitor general under President George W. Bush. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.