Abilene business owner recounts his time at the White House on 9/11

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ABILENE TEXAS (KTAB/KRBC) – On Sept. 11, 2001 Abilene’s own Tom and Lisa Perini were just hours away from serving fine Texas barbecue to 1,400 of Washington’s political elite at the request of President George W. Bush.

“We’d been catering for him as governor, but when he became president he asked us to cater the congressional picnic,” said Owner of Perini Ranch Steakhouse Tom Perini.

After two days of rigorous preparation, tables, grills, and chairs were set up on the south lawn of the White House, awaiting the guests of a celebration that wouldn’t happen.

While getting ready to leave for the event, Perini says the television caught his eye. News of the first tower’s destruction was live. As he grappled with the gravity of the situation, the second tower was hit.

“The thought that in this day and age a plane could just fly into a tall tower like this, you’re thinking, ‘How did this happen?'” Perini said.

His crew was already at the White House waiting for his arrival. They say Secret Service, Marines, and White House staff began to flee the presidential home.

“They said, ‘Run,’ and our people ran, and the plane they thought was going to hit the White House flew and hit the Pentagon,” says Perini.

“It was a beautiful blue sky clear day, just magnificent. Then you had sirens in the background, you had F-16s circling, and I’ll just never forget that moment when I realized, ‘There is a problem here.'”

-Tom perini

Tom, his wife, and their crew would be locked down in Washington for the next three days, after which they packed their catering equipment from the White House and readied for the long trip back to Texas.

“As the last truck left, I heard somebody say, ‘Tommy,’ and the president calls me Tommy,” said Perini.

He says he turned to see none other than President George W. Bush walking towards him. Though he knew he wasn’t supposed to, Perini says he walked up to meet the president.

“I may laugh now and I’m joking about it, but we probably had little red dots all over us from the Secret Service on the roof,” says Perini.

The conversation lasted less than a minute, but how it ended is what Perini says stuck with him.

“Kerry Fortune of the Boys Ranch said, ‘Mr. President, we’re going to pray for you,’ and he turned around and said, Thank you, I need all the prayers I can get,’ and he walked into the Oval Office,” Perini said.

The food that was meant for the day’s celebration was donated to the first responders and Secret Service who were dealing with the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon.

Perini says he offered to have his crew prepare it, but White House staff turned him down.

“They said, ‘Nope, we can’t have any fires built on the south lawn because of the smoke and the perception of maybe having a party. We can’t do it,'” Perini says.

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