Former VP Cheney never hesitated: ‘Shoot down the airliner’

You could hear a pin drop as former Vice President Dick Cheney described what it was like to be at the White House during the 9/11 crisis that occurred Sept. 11, 2001.

He was speaking to 250 members of the Republican Party at a Lincoln Day dinner in Cody May 25. 

His daughter, Wyoming’s current U. S. Representative Liz Cheney, was interviewing her father as part of a program lined up for that night.

And it was a very big night. Political leaders from all over the state plus candidates for all the major offices were there, along with their entourages. 

But this night belonged to Cheney. The former vice president, who served with President George W. Bush from 2000 to 2008, received a heart transplant six years ago. He looks vibrant and healthy at the age of 77. 

Cheney spoke manner-of-factly as he recounted that fateful day when more than 3,000 American citizens died in terrorist attacks. 

Although it certainly was not a funny moment at the time, some folks chuckled when Cheney recalled a burly secret service agent walking into his West Wing office, grabbing him by the collar and his belt and literally hefting him in the air and whisking him out of the room.

The White House staff all knew about the commercial airliners that had crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City but now it was determined that a hijacked airliner was headed toward Washington D. C. 

Cheney went to the war room deep beneath the capitol complex and then was faced with a horrible decision.

“Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said he thought there were four to six planes that had been hijacked. And I was told an airliner was headed our way. Should our fighters shoot it down?” Cheney recalled being asked. 

“I gave the order to shoot down that plane,” he recalled. 

The fighters were too late to intercept the first airliner, which ultimately crashed into the Pentagon.

The second airliner was the famous Flight 93, whose passengers had been called by relatives telling them about the Twin Towers crashes. “Those brave souls took their own plane down, killing themselves but saving countless others,” Cheney concluded.

Cheney, who has resided in Jackson for years, has lived one of the most amazing careers in American politics. He was the youngest presidential chief of staff in history (for President Gerald Ford), a U. S Representative for Wyoming, a Secretary of Defense during the first Gulf War and then vice president for eight years during the George W. Bush administration.

When asked what his favorite job was during all that time, he said Secretary of Defense had to top the list.

He heaped massive praise on the members of the military and recalled some interesting times with Gen. Colin Powell, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. 

He called the efforts of the American forces “magnificent.” He was proud that the USA could do things that no other military force in the world could do.

“We used stealth technology and precision missile strikes, which no other country possessed,” Cheney said. 

But Cheney was not the only star of the evening. U. S. Sen. John Barrasso gave a rousing call to action for the true believers in attendance. Barrasso is campaigning for another term in the Senate this year.

Cody’s hometown hero, former U. S. Senator Al Simpson, was the emcee and asked Cheney to tell a different version of one of the most famous political stories in Wyoming lore.

Cheney: “Al and I were running for reelection for our two seats during the same campaign period. I had spent the night in Lander at Judge Jack Nicholas’ home but needed to get up early and get to Riverton for a radio interview.

“The radio station was always on the edge of Riverton near the Wind River and I pulled in and dashed through the front door.”

“Next thing I knew there a was woman in her nightgown. She was vacuuming as I recall. A baby was crawling in the corner. I asked her if this was the radio station.

“‘No,’ the woman said, ‘they just moved downtown. We just moved here. By the way, who are you?’”

Cheney then paused and told the Cody crowd: “My name is Al Simpson and I am running for the Senate. I would very much appreciate your vote.”

He said he then dashed out of the house and headed downtown to the real radio station building. 

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