‘It could’ve been us.’ Visit Mississippi Director shares his 9/11 story of being in NYC that day

Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 8:37 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -Even 20 years later, you likely remember exactly where you were on 9/11. Visit Mississippi Director Craig Ray was in New York City serving as Special Assistant to the President, Deputy Director of Advance for Special Events.

“Frankly, I think about it all the time,” Ray explained. “There’s some times that moves me more than others. But it’s a story I’m glad I’ve told.”

Craig Ray’s story — he was in New York on September 11 planning for the President’s trip to the United Nations in two weeks. The original plan for that morning’s meeting?

“At the World Trade Center to the north tower, the 106th floor, to a restaurant called the Windows of the World,” said Ray.

They originally were planning a dinner with the President and several world leaders to take place there during the trip two weeks later. So, they were going to scout the location.

“The meeting was at 9:45,” Ray described. “So, we were planning to arrive at 9:00. And then by the time you park and get up to the tower — so our plan was to be there, you know, 8:55-9:00, that day.”

But that part of the trip was canceled four days earlier because of the security concerns of having four world leaders in the top of a building.

Instead, Ray and the advance team were arriving to meet with the UN Ambassador on the morning of the 11th when they learn the news from a military aid.

“A plane has hit one of the towers,” he recalls being told. “It could be a small Cessna; it could be an accident. No one knows right now.”

President Bush was in Florida reading to children. In an unusual move, there were no national security advisors with him that day. Some were at the White House, two others with Ray and his team. They’re in the ambassadors’ office as the second plane hits.

“So immediately, I knew what our mission was going to be,” Ray said, describing the need to get those advisors to the President.

As chaos continues in the streets of Manhattan, it’s determined that Dover Air Force Base will be the closest location to get the protectees to the President.

They ultimately took the Lincoln Tunnel and saw the smoke billowing and realizing both towers had fallen.

“To to get that clear view coming through the tunnel, look back on what had just happened was — it’s hard for me to tell the story today,” he said. “But it was very, very moving.”

They got the national security advisors to the air force base after stopping several times along the way at highway patrol stations to get secure phone calls out to Air Force One. But looking back on the day 20 years later doesn’t dull the emotions.

“Just seeing all the innocent lives that died that day in New York, you can’t get rid of that and the fact it could have been us,” Ray added.

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