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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Ground Zero Visit: President Obama's Comments From Inside Firehouse; Engine 54, Ladder 4 Fire Chief Speaks About President's Lunch
Aired May 5, 2011 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama honors the spirit of Americans and pays tribute to the almost 3,000 lives lost in the September 11th attacks.
I'm Anderson Cooper in New York. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM'S special coverage of the president's visit to Ground Zero. We also want to welcome our viewers around the world on CNN International, and people watching in countries all around the globe -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: They certainly are.
And I'm Wolf Blitzer, here in Washington, D.C.
President Obama's visit comes just six days of he ordered the raid that killed the al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the architect of the terrorist attacks.
We're standing by. The president, right now, is inside a fire station. He's having lunch with firefighters.
He will then leave there. Rudy Giuliani, the former of New York City, who was the mayor on 9/11, he's joined the president. He's there with the president right now.
The president will go lay a wreath at a memorial at Ground Zero, and then he will meet privately with family members, survivors of some of those killed on 9/11.
Our senior political analyst David Gergen is joining us now from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an adviser to former Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.
Take us inside a White House on a day like this. And it's an extraordinary day. Since the death of bin Laden, it's been an extraordinary several days.
David, take us inside the decision-making process that leads a president to make this decision to go to New York.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, much of the focus in the White House, of course, almost the complete focus, was trying to get bin Laden. And that was an enormously complicated 24 interagency meetings, no leaks, a lot of discipline showed. But then there comes a time once you get the objective, or something really happens inside a White House, you begin to asking yourself, OK, how can we properly commemorate this moment? What's the right way to do it?
And coming to this site, 9/11, again, so analogous to going to Pearl Harbor and remembering World War II and remembering those veterans, this was a way for the president to say, we keep our promises. We promised we'd remember you, and we're doing that. But just as important for this White House, Wolf, as you know, has been a sense that getting bin Laden was about keeping a promise to the world that we would do justice, that we would seek justice as we would not let him go unpunished. And what's in the White House right now is a very quiet sense of satisfaction that we have sent a message that we will keep our promises, we will be persistent, and we have the reach and capability to keep our promises. They think that's a very important message to send to the Middle East and against al Qaeda all around the world.
BLITZER: And we're looking at these live pictures from the site. Security, obviously, very intense. We see some family members there getting ready.
The president will be going there. He'll be laying this wreath, as we've been saying.
Talk a little bit, David, about the decision to have Rudy Giuliani, the mayor -- the former mayor of New York, join the president inside that fire station right now. He received the president when he landed aboard Marine One in lower Manhattan and he's with him right now. This is something important, especially because the former president, George W. Bush, who was invited, decided not to go right now.
GERGEN: That's a very important point, Wolf. And they would have liked to have George W. Bush there, but they certainly understand, I think everybody understands, the Bush tradition, as you know so well. The Bush father and son both believe we only have one president at a time. And he'll come back in September for the 10th anniversary. But this was President Obama's moment. He was the one who got him, in effect.
But beyond that, Rudy Giuliani, you know, helps to bring it back full circle, because he became the face of 9/11 of a defiant America, of a America that was courageous in the face of adversity. And his leadership in that moment, you know, this Churchillian quality that he showed, was something that was so important to rally the United States in 9/11, and the leadership he showed once it followed. He never made it to the presidency, but he'll always be remembered, as John King said earlier, as America's mayor.
BLITZER: He certainly will. America's mayor, indeed. Rudy Giuliani, appropriate for him to be with the president of the United States in Manhattan right now.
GERGEN: Right. BLITZER: David, don't go too far away.
I want to bring in CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She's been speaking with people on Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan, where crowds certainly gathering.
Set the scene, Deb, where you are right now, because I remember you were there on 9/11 as well.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And actually, Wolf, talking about that firehouse, Engine 54, actually, that's where I was on 9/11. And I remember I had attended a press conference, and the fire commissioner had come out, and you could tell his eyes were completely red and glassy. And he came out and he said that 343 firefighters had been lost and nobody knew how New York City was ever going to be able to recover from that.
And immediately, we started going to engine houses all around the city, and there was a sense of waiting. And at Engine 54, where the president is right now, I stood outside there.
Family members had already begun to gather. And I remember them closing the shades. The cars that they had driven that day were standing out on the streets, and there was just this odd -- it wasn't even odd. It was this white powder. It was debris from Ground Zero that had actually blown up more than 54 blocks.
We're talking about three miles, the ash all over the streets in Manhattan. And I remember going to a second firehouse, and the doorman was there and he was -- there was a doorman in a building next door, and he was frantic and he said, "We're waiting for them to come back. We're waiting for them to come back and nobody's coming back. Nobody's coming back."
So, you know, the shock and the trauma that hit the New York City Fire Department on that day, they had to rebuild. They had to rebuild. They had to hire all new people. They just lost so much seniority on that day. And that's the thing that we here in New York remember.
But right now I want to bring in two young ladies, Brienne McNally and her sister, Erin McNally. Now, these young ladies were 11 and 13, respectively, on 9/11 when their father was killed in one of the towers.
And Erin, 9/11 is your birthday, and you asked your dad not to go to work that day.
ERIN MCNALLY, FATHER KILLED ON 9/11: Yes, I did. And he promised he'd come back right after work. He had to be there. He had people coming in for a business meeting.
FEYERICK: And you were going to open your presents. And he promised he'd be there.
MCNALLY: Yes, he did.
FEYERICK: When he didn't come back, what was that like for you on that day, on your birthday?
MCNALLY: I mean, I knew that he would have been there if he could. It was obviously very hard. But I knew he'd be there if he could.
FEYERICK: Now, Brienne you heard about Osama bin Laden's death. What does it mean to you as somebody who was affected so personally by what happened?
BRIENNE MCNALLY, FATHER KILLED ON 9/11: It's definitely mixed emotions, because you definitely feel relief that somebody that represents injustice and cruelty, that was responsible for the murder of my father, finally, the fact that he's no longer on this earth, brings a justice to the situation. But at the same time, it brings up all these emotions from that day when I found out that he died, and just knowing that my dad will never come back. And it's hard to have that hole in your life, and that will never be -- I'll never get full closure on that.
FEYERICK: You know, when I spoke to the fire commissioner at the time, just a few moments ago, he said that there's -- for the families, there's a sense of loss and grief and just unfulfilled that they can't make up that time.
Is that an accurate portrayal?
B. MCNALLY: Yes, because, I mean, they'll never be able to bring him back. And that loss that we've had to deal with and will always have to deal with will always be there.
And it's never easier. And it does bring some sort of closure and justice to the situation, but it's never going to make it OK, and it's never going to -- the situation will never be OK.
FEYERICK: Now, you had wanted to go to meet with the president, but they limited the number. Are you disappointed in that?
B. MCNALLY: I definitely would have liked to have been able to meet with the president. I understand the circumstances. It was last minute, high security and everything. But, I mean, hopefully we'll be there on the 10-year anniversary this year and we'll get to meet him then.
FEYERICK: All right.
Brienne and Erin, thank you so much. We really appreciate your staying and talking to us and sharing your thoughts with us today.
So, Wolf, Anderson, that's some of the feelings here, the families here at Ground Zero, a couple of people who have been all around the perimeter, just waiting for the president's arrival -- Wolf, Anderson.
BLITZER: All right, Deb. Thanks very much. We'll get back to you.
Anderson, we have got an amazing shot, an aerial shot of Ground Zero. I want our viewers to see it right now, because it really shows what's going on.
But elaborate a little bit, if you don't mind, Anderson. The construction -- the other night I was watching "AC 360." We heard a lot of noise. Construction is really moving.
Is it moving around the clock there where you are?
COOPER: Yes. That's one of the really interesting things. It is literally around the clock.
We were on the air at 10:00 at night, and there were jackhammers all over in different locations going. And they took a break at 11:00 and then started up again. So, this is a 24-hour operation.
For years, there was a lot of competing interests, a lot of argument about what would be built over the designs of what would be built, a lot of discussions with family members, understandably -- the man who owned the site, the developer who holds the lease, the port authorities and others. All those discussions have now been sorted out, and you really see construction going full tailed (ph).
The area that we're on right now is actually the memorial area which is going to be dedicated in just a few months, on September 11th of this year. Behind me, you can see the still being built museum which will be opened, if it makes it on schedule, the following September 11th.
There's also a number of towers. It used to be what was at one point called the Freedom Tower. That's no longer called the Freedom Tower, but that's well under construction. One tower has already been opened and three other towers are still being constructed. And there's also reflecting pools in the footprint, if you will, of the former World Trade towers.
So, a lot going on. We're going to show you more of it throughout the morning as our coverage continues.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: And you're looking at President Obama's motorcade outside the firehouse where he has been having lunch with a number of firefighters, also with the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, who was on the tarmac to greet the president when he arrived, got off Marine One, got off the helicopter.
He will be heading down here to Ground Zero shortly, where he will lay a wreath, along with the members of the New York City Fire Department, the Port Authority, the New York City Police Department as well.
Mary Snow is outside.
Mary, is that the president leaving right now?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is the president leaving right now. And there are some people who have been gathered to wait for him to come out, so a faint cheer going up. Not a lot of people out here gathered outside, but his motorcade has now just pulled away down the street. And it's about 45 minutes, Anderson, that he was inside the firehouse, and now headed to his next location.
As you know, he did speak, informal remarks, telling these firefighters inside Engine 54, Ladder 4 is symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice made on that terrible day almost 10 years ago. Fifteen members of that firehouse killed on September 11th, and between them, they had 28 children among the firefighters. And these families still remain very close.
After Osama bin Laden had been killed, in fact, they said that they were on the phone for a good part of the day on Monday, calling these families, checking in with them. It's been a lot of mixed emotions for these men here.
COOPER: Yes. Well, I know there's also -- inside that firehouse there's a plaque for the 15 men that I know that President Obama was shown. There's also an area in that firehouse where not just the photos of the firefighters who have passed, but also notes from their children. As Mary mentioned, 28 children have been left without fathers in that one firehouse, alone.
I'm joined now at Ground Zero here with John King, of "JOHN KING USA."
The president is on his way back down here now to lay the wreath. We're not sure if former Mayor Giuliani will continue to stay with him, but we assume he will.
JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": We assume he will. I think that's a great sign of unity, a sign of a president who now was the president of the United States when this momentous event happened, the killing of Osama bin Laden, side by side with the mayor who represented the country as such a great city, a national figure, but a unifying and a figure of great resolve after 9/11. I think that's a great image for the country.
It's an interesting time. Nine and a half frustrating, fitful, sometimes awful years and frustrating years in the search for Osama bin Laden, and so there's a sense here, I think -- and you feel it, you've been here broadcasting live the last few days -- when you talk to the family members, some of them do have that sense of "finally." But others have said, you know, this is reopening the wounds a bit.
KING: It reopens the wounds a bit. I had a woman on the other night who was in one of these towers and said, "He tried to kill me." And just the way she personalized it and the way she said it, it just stopped me in my tracks.
So it's an important moment. I think the wreath-laying, the way the president is doing it without any formal speech is important, just to reflect and to meet with the families.
And as Ed noted, there has been some tensions with the families from time to time. So that's an important moment for the president.
COOPER: Do we know where the meeting with the families will take place?
KING: No. I don't know the exact location. We do know that they're of course invited to the wreath-laying ceremony, which will be right over here. And in the past, there are other buildings around here where I know President Bush has been here in the past and has done those kinds of meetings. Exactly where, I don't know.
COOPER: The White House cameras will not be present.
KING: The cameras will not be present. And one of the things I'll just mention quickly as an aside is when you look around here -- and we don't want to show it -- I covered the White House for eight and a half years -- there is an extraordinary and extra extraordinary level of security around this site right now.
Obviously, you have the president of the United States out in a public place that has not once, but twice, been the scene of a terrorist attack in this country. An important public event for the president, but when you look around here, you can tell that they're being extra, extra careful.
Let's go back to Wolf in Washington.
A lot to cover. We anticipate the president's arrival -- well, very shortly, actually, here. We'll bring it to you every step of the way -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, there's no doubt that the president -- this is the first time the president will be at Ground Zero since he was elected president of the United States. And he picked these days -- and let's just remind our viewers here in the United States and around the world why.
Because over the weekend, U.S. Navy SEALs went to Abbottabad, Pakistan. They found Osama bin Laden and they killed him. And that ended, to a certain degree, a major, major chapter, the hunt for the world's most wanted terrorist.
It took almost 10 years. Now, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 -- that's coming up -- there will be a very, very different tone because bin Laden is now dead.
We're going to go back to Ground Zero momentarily, as soon as the president shows up there. He will lay a wreath at the memorial. He'll later, as you know, meet with some of the family members, the surviving family members.
Our special coverage will continue right after this.
COOPER: A few moments ago, President Obama left Engine 54, Ladder 4, after meeting with firefighters. He made short comments inside the firehouse. They weren't broadcast live. They were put on tape.
We've just gotten the tape and we're going to play that for you now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But to the commissioner, to Mayor Giuliani, who obviously performed heroic acts almost 10 years ago, but most of all, to all of you, I wanted to just come up here to thank you.
This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifices that was made on that terrible day almost 10 years ago. Obviously, we can't bring back the friends that were lost, and I know that each and every one of you not only grieve for them, but have also in the last 10 years dealt with their family, their children, tried to give them comfort, tried to give them support.
Well, what happened on Sunday, because of the courage of our military and the outstanding work of our intelligence, sent a message around the world, but it also sent a message here back home that, when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say. And our commitment to making sure that justice was done is something that transcended politics, it transcended party.
It doesn't matter which administration was in. It didn't matter who was in charge. We were going to make sure that the perpetrators of that horrible act, that they received justice.
So it's some comfort, I hope, to all of you to know that when those guys took those extraordinary risks going into Pakistan, that they were doing it in part because of the sacrifices that were made in this state. They were doing it in the name of your brothers that were lost.
And finally, let me just say that although 9/11 obviously was a high watermark of courage for the New York Fire Department, and a symbol of the sacrifice -- you guys are making sacrifices every single day. It doesn't get as much notoriety. It doesn't get as much attention. But every time you run into a burning building, every time that you are saving lives, you're making a difference. And that's part of what makes this city great, and that's part of what makes this country great.
So I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of the American people for the sacrifices that you make every single day. And I just want to let you know that you're always going to have a president and an administration who's got your back the way you have gotten the backs of the people of New York over these last many years.
So God bless you. God bless the United States of America.
And with that, I'm going to try some of that food. All right?
Appreciate you guys. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Firefighters are speaking right now outside the firehouse. Let's listen in.
CHIEF EDWARD KILDUFF, NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT: The president was nice enough to come to our firehouse today, Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9, to share lunch with the firefighters. It was a wonderful gesture based on the news that we all got Sunday night about Osama bin Laden's death.
I think the president connected well with the firefighters. He gave a little congratulations and "thank you" to the firefighters for what the firefighters and first responders did on September 11th and what the firefighters and first responders continue to do. He seemed generally very appreciative of what all the first responders do, and he really wanted to convey that message to the first responder community.
After we had a little greeting with the president, the 15 firefighters from the firehouse sat down and had lunch with President Obama. It was a wonderful lunch.
There was a lot -- it was a very informal lunch. The president was very much at ease, but still wanted everybody to know, again, how much he appreciated all the work that the first responders and firefighters do for him.
So there was a little bantering back and forth. We had a very light, enjoyable conversation. At the same time, we're still remembering everything that's going on, all the sacrifices that the military is making for us now, all the sacrifices that the families made on September 11th and continue to make in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So, with all that in mind, we had a great conversation. A little bit of Mets, a little bit of Yankees, a little bit of White Sox, a little bit of Cubs. And we think the president generally enjoyed his visit to the firehouse.
Again, we're extremely appreciative that he was able to join us today for lunch.
QUESTION: Chief, what did the president say when he looked at the shrine of the firefighters who died?
QUESTION: How meaningful was this visit when he saw that shrine?
KILDUFF: I think this firehouse symbolizes the sacrifices that were made by the firefighters and first responders in New York City. I think the world knows that to some degree.
So, for him to come here and to see the faces of the firefighters that were killed on September 11th, and to see the shrine that was erected in their honor, really meant something to him. I could see that the president was clearly touched by the sacrifices and by the stories that the firefighters told him.
QUESTION: Chief, how were the manners? Were you ever worried about how they'd behave in a formal setting?
KILDUFF: I think the president put everybody at ease as soon as he walked in the door. He was a wonderful guest. The folks that were with him were wonderful.
Mayor Giuliani came with him. Obviously, we have a relationship with Mayor Giuliani, so that was a nice ice-breaker as well. And the firefighters were at complete ease with the president. He put everybody at ease right away.
QUESTION: Were you expecting him to be here this long?
KILDUFF: We knew that he'd be here for a period of time, but to see him take off his coat, sit down in the kitchen, sit back in the chair and relax, and just have a nice conversation, it was wonderful.
QUESTION: Chef (INAUDIBLE), can you talk to us for a second? What was it like to break bread and have the president of the United States eat your eggplant parmesan?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was, you know, a once-in-a-lifetime thing, I guess. You know? It was pretty cool. He was a great guy. You know?
QUESTION: What did he say to you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just -- he loved his shrimp, he loved the veal -- I mean, the eggplant parmesan. He was a really down-to-earth guy.
He sat down, like the chief said. Everything was informal. We were just -- you know, it was like hanging out with the rest of the guys in the firehouse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He looked like he liked everything. It seemed like he liked everything. You know?
QUESTION: Sir, did you have anything that you wanted to say to him? This firehouse has suffered a lot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we thanked him for the recognition. Him coming by was really a spectacular thing.
He came genuinely. You know, we just wanted to tell him we thank him for what he did on Sunday. And all the troops and all, we want to let them know that we're with them every step of the way. And God bless them, thank them. I mean, if it wasn't for them, you know, we'd still be chasing this guy.
QUESTION: Is the burden a little easier?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's bittersweet. You know, like most that's come up --
QUESTION: What was your favorite moment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This whole thing is great. It's just great.
QUESTION: Usually the firefighters have to pay for their own meals. Does this mean you guys actually took the president to lunch today?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. And we were all invited to the White House for lunch.
QUESTION: Did he say he extended an invitation?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, just kidding.
QUESTION: Were you on duty on 9/11?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) serve all of them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, firefighter.
QUESTION: Joe, what did the president say about not forgetting?
KILDUFF: As far as not forgetting, the president made it very clear that the firefighters, first responders, have the administration's support. They won't forget us. They know the job we're doing day in, day out. There was a lot of links to the job the military are doing day in, day out. So, he made it very clear he supports and his administration supports the firefighters.
QUESTION: And did you know it was a (ph)long time coming for a president to come and say such remarks to the firefighters?
KILDUFF: I think the administration has always demonstrated support for firefighters. I think under the, you know -- because of the week's events, I think it was very appropriate for him to come. And listen, they picked the site. They picked the visit. We didn't -- they decided this is the appropriate thing to do, them in the White House. And they pulled it off and did it.
QUESTION: Even with the killing of Osama bin Laden, this house and this city and the country faces threats. This was the first house to respond to the Times Square bomber van. What are your thoughts today going forward even though we've had the killing of Osama bin Laden? What first responders like you and those across the country still face?
KILDUFF: The reason that the first responders, the firefighters and the police officers were able to figure out what was going on in Times Square was because of the preparedness and training that's been ongoing since September 11.
We're not going to stop that. We're going to continue all of our training, all of our preparedness. We'll continue to maintain a relationship with Homeland Security. We'll just keep our heads up and eyes open for anything going on. That won't stop. And just as the military is doing their role overseas, we're going to do our role here right in town.
QUESTION: Did he say anything about the attack on Osama bin Laden with you all?
KILDUFF: He did talk about it and he talked a little bit about what things were like in their strategy room there. But I think it was somewhat confidential, and he just said that it was a tense moment for everybody in that room. You know, there was some very tense moments as far as the helicopter situation was. But he was very relieved and very happy as well as his administration that everything worked out.
QUESTION: From your point of view was ten years - ten years -- from the promise made on the pile to the fulfillment of that promise this past week, this past Monday. I mean, what did that feel like timely seeing the promise fulfilled?
KILDUFF: I think we have to thank President Bush and President Obama for sticking it out, for always staying focused. I know that President Obama said we're going to get him. Took a long time, took a lot of preparation, but they got him. So, I think that ten years, one year, two years, ten years, it's done.
I think it's wonderful that it's done before the tenth anniversary so maybe the families might be slightly relieved leading up to the tenth anniversary. But it's important. It's done. Now everybody has a job to move forward.
QUESTION: Is the burden a little lighter today? KILDUFF: The burden for the families, I believe from the families that I've talked to, is a little bit lighter. Justice is probably the correct word. Certainly not closure. So, I think the burden is a little bit lighter, but this is an ongoing thing. We have almost 3,000 families with a hole in their hearts. So, we can never say that justice and comfort is completely there.
QUESTION: But what did the firehouse go through on 9/11?
QUESTION: How it made you feel to hear the words on thanks on behalf of the entire department that lost so much that day?
KILDUFF: I don't think the president could have been clearer or more sincere with what he said, which was most pleasing to us. He was as clear as he could be and as pleasant as could be. I think that --
BLITZER: All right. So, I just want to break away briefly. The president arrived at the first precinct in lower Manhattan, NYPD. There he is on the screen. You see him walking inside. He's going to meet with New York City police officers, meet with port authority officers as well. You saw Rudy Giuliani still with the president, joining him on this very special day.
The president first visiting the fire station, firehouse, now going to the lower Manhattan first precinct for NYPD. He wants to pay his respects to all of those first responders. The firefighters, the police officers, the port authority workers, others, who were so involved in saving lives as best as they could almost ten years ago on 9/11. Very emotional comments from the fire chief, Edward Kilduff, in New York.
Anderson Cooper is down at ground zero. He's watching all of this together with us. Anderson, this, for the firefighters in New York, for the police officers, the first responders, having the president of the United States come to New York only a few days after bin Laden was killed has to be such an emotional moment.
COOPER: Absolutely. We saw the president, we now have the video of the president looking at the plaques that they have. I mean, just think about this. Fifteen firefighters from that one station died. That's an extraordinary number, and the plaques line a wall there that the president took time to look and read the names.
Also, it's not just 15 firefighters. They left behind 28 children. And those firefighters who are now serving out of there continue to obviously have a relationship with those children and with the family members of the firefighters who were lost.
I'm joined now by John King from "JOHN KING USA." I mean, a lot of people don't understand. The New York City Fire Department is a very close-knit group. And with - I mean, I had talked to Lee Ielpi (ph). His son was killed here. He was a firefighter. Now his other son is also a firefighter.
JOHN KING, CNN HOST, "JKUSA": It is a family. It goes through the generations. In the Midwest, maybe you work in the auto factories. NYPD, NYFD, there's generations of it. Fathers, sons, and grandfathers. And so, this was a family wound.
And I tell you, you know, it was uplifting to hear the chief and the other firefighters talk about how nice it was to have the president in there. But at the same time, I felt my mood going back down because it's a reminder when you hear them speak of just the cold-blooded murder that happened on that day.
And, you know, behind -- you were mentioning this earlier, this will be filled in pretty soon and the names will be etched in those stones and the reflecting pool here. And it has sort of a Vietnam memorial look to it, the dark stones and the like. You begin to realize when you hear the first responders and are reminded of their stories and all the pain of why this needs to be a solemn day. And yes, there are people out there saying thank you after nine-and-a-half years, but at the same time, when you continue the story and hear the personal stories, just, it brings you down.
COOPER: Yes, Lee's son, John, who died here, who was a firefighter from Rescue 2, everybody from Rescue 2 who responded, who came to this site, perished here. It was just an extraordinary loss.
KING: And if -- hopefully this event, and people watching it, you know, we're a society that tends to want to move on, tends to want to forget the hard stuff. Remembering the heroes of 9/11, the victims who were killed in cold blood trying to do their jobs and then the heroes who came in. If that is part of what we discuss now as we also talk about the mission and bravery of the commandos, it's good for the country to remember the heroism that happened in this city around the Pentagon and elsewhere on that day.
COOPER: And there is new life blossoming here at ground zero. They've planted trees in the memorial area, which is going to be dedicated in just a few months on September 11. And 100 feet from where we're standing right now is where President Obama is going to be laying a wreath.
There's what they call the survivor tree or the surviving tree. It's a pear tree that was on this site on 9/11 was damaged but taken to another location, nursed back to health, and has been brought back to ground zero for planting. Just a remarkable testament to the changes that we have seen on this site and to the new life that's going to be born here as well. And that's where President Obama is going to be laying the wreath shortly.
BLITZER: President of the United States is over at Precinct 1, Number 1 in lower Manhattan. NYPD officers, port authority officers. You saw this live picture. This is tape. Just a little while ago the president arrived at the first precinct in lower Manhattan. He's meeting with police officers right now.
Earlier, he met with firefighters in midtown, Manhattan, to pay his respects. He spoke movingly about what's going on. From this precinct, he'll be heading over to ground zero to lay a wreath at the memorial there. This is a moment that the president wants to underscore precisely, precisely because Osama bin Laden was killed over the weekend. These are pictures that you saw earlier of the president over at the firehouse. He's now at this first precinct in lower Manhattan and then will be going over to the memorial at ground zero very soon. He'll lay a wreath, and then he will go into a building nearby and meet privately with some family members of those killed on 9/11.
I don't think White House officials thought the president would be visiting this memorial, this ground zero site, before September 11, the tenth anniversary. They were always planning on being there then. The decision to go now was accelerated, obviously, because bin Laden is now dead. We heard the president say at the firehouse, we will never forget, we mean exactly what we say. Justice will be done.
CNN's Candy Crowley is watching all of this as well. She hosts "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday mornings. When the president says those words, they're not casual. It's not just something he thinks about. He's been thinking about this for a long time.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it's also not just a message about today or last Sunday night. It's a message to -- look, the world's still in turmoil. We're still looking at a big NATO fight in Libya. And it is a, you know, a recommitment or a restatement of U.S. resolve. And you know, it may have taken us, you know, ten years, but we mean what we say. And if, you know, there's an assault on America, we go after the perpetrator.
So, listen, that's a message you want out there. I mean, we talk a lot about how we're the last superpower on earth, which is certainly true militarily in many ways. But the fact of the matter is it's been a frustrating ten years. That as much as -- everybody said Democrats and Republicans, well, Bin Laden's really not the problem now, he's symbolic.
It's a big symbol. It's a huge symbol. Regardless of how intricately involved he was in day-to-day planning of anything, his departure means a lot. I was talking to an official that I know at the CIA who said, listen, the good thing here is not just that he's gone, but that his departure sets up an internal fight in al Qaeda. Who takes over? Who becomes the head? And that's also good. That you want them fighting one another.
So, there's plenty of reasons for this message to go out today. One of them because, you know, America wants it known across the world. And also it's a good time to begin watching al Qaeda and what they're going to do now because their symbolic or not leader is gone.
BLITZER: It's interesting. We're being seen on CNN International around the world right now in addition to our viewers here in the United States. The president of the United States, his credibility around the world all of a sudden escalated in a major, major way.
CROWLEY: And I think just to -- I wrote something on Monday and said, you -- he gets all the credit in the world because imagine if this had gone wrong. If this had gone wrong and the United States had failed in this mission and there was a shootout with the Pakistanis, or we lost Navy SEALs in a house, in a suburb of Islamabad, it would have all been on him. So this was a very good moment for him. You know, the staying power of it, who knows, because lots of moments between now and re-election if you want to look at it politically. But it was a -- it's a great moment for him.
And I think also one of the things that I wrote about Monday was, I think one of the reasons we saw the cheering in the streets and there was this sort of elation, let's face it, at the death of someone else who was shot in the head, however evil, that the elation was that it was a clear win. We spent 10 years in these wars where we're not really sure what victory looks like and you go to an airport and you don't really know whether the backpack is, you know, full of something. You're supposed to report suspicious things. So the world's become so murky. And this was a clear win. And I think that clarity is what a lot of people were celebrating, that our guys got a bad guy.
BLITZER: Yes, and you're absolutely right. He took -- it took guts for him to make that call, go forward, because some of his advisers saying, it's too risky, we don't know what's going to happen. They were thinking --
CROWLEY: Don't know if he's there.
BLITZER: They were thinking -- you and I remember Jimmy Carter in 1979, failed desert one to rescue American hostages in Iran. What that did for U.S. credibility. The aftermath of that. What that did for Jimmy Carter as a result of that as well.
So this president, he stood up. He said, do it. They did it. And all the U.S. Navy SEALs, they came home.
The president's now inside the first precinct in lower Manhattan. You're looking at those live pictures there. He's meeting with police officers, New York Port Authority officers as well. Earlier he met with firefighters in midtown Manhattan.
Anderson Cooper is on the scene for us at Ground Zero.
Anderson, from this first precinct we believe he will head over to where you are for this wreath laying ceremony.
COOPER: Yes, that's right. And the significance, just so you know, the first precinct is, they were the first police officers to respond on 9/11. They did not lose any members of the police force from that precinct, though one of their members was trapped, but he survived. But they were the first to respond to the scene.
President Obama, as you said, Wolf, is scheduled to lay a wreath here at the Ground Zero memorial site about an hour from now. He's been at the New York Fire Station meeting with emergency workers, as you mentioned, who rushed to the scene after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He was at the firehouse where 15 brave firefighters were lost.
We're joined now by one of -- one first responder on 9/11. His name is Kenny Specht. He's a retired firefighter, president of the New York City Firefighter Brotherhood Foundation.
Kenny, I appreciate you being with us.
KENNY SPECHT, RETIRED NEW YORK CITY FIREFIGHTER: Thanks for having me, Anderson.
COOPER: When you heard that bin Laden was dead, what went through your mind when you heard he had been killed?
SPECHT: Well, I've been listening to a little bit of your show today, and I have to be honest with you, that the American resolve to complete the task, we're not going to stop until the task is completed. It took almost 10 years, but it just goes to show -- goes to show the resolve of this country and the resolve of the military. And, honestly, Anderson, the resolve of the American people.
Is it a -- is it -- did it take a long time? Absolutely. But I have to be honest with you, it's better late than never. So the first thing that crossed my mind, and I spoke to Wolf the other night about this, was first and foremost, Anderson, I was absolutely pleased to hear that not a single member of the military, the United States Navy SEAL team, was even injured. And, to me, that was paramount. And then second to that was the fact that Osama bin Laden was dead. So it was really excellent news, to be honest with you.
COOPER: You know, some people use this word, closure. And it's a word I never really try to use because I don't think there is closure for people who have suffered a tragedy like this. When you hear that word, I mean do you feel closure?
SPECHT: No. Anderson, I have to be honest with you, 10 years outside the Trade Center, the New York City Fire Department is still dealing with the repercussions of our actions down here. New York City Fire Department members are dying from illness and injury at a rate that's higher than the national average. Closure for the New York City Fire Department, I don't know if it's ever going to happen. And the same thing with the construction workers and the New York City Police Department and the people that spent a considerable amount of time on this pile, this toxic pile. The death of Osama bin Laden doesn't bring closure to those that are still dealing with the illness and injury. And like I said just a second ago, Anderson, 10 years later, we're still -- our ranks are still being decimated by serious illness and injury.
So closure is a difficult thing to get. I'm glad and I'm happy to see what's going on here today. It's important that the country celebrates what occurred. But it's also vitally important, Anderson, that we remain vigilant, we remain on our game and we realize that, unfortunately, this war against terrorism doesn't end with the death of Osama bin Laden.
COOPER: And I know that's why you started the Brotherhood Foundation. You, yourself, have cancer from the site, isn't that correct?
SPECHT: That's correct. That's correct, Anderson. 2008 I was diagnosed with cancer myself.
COOPER: What do want -- what do you hope to achieve with the foundation?
SPECHT: Well, we've been open for three years. Three years this summer. We were on the forefront of the fight to get the James Zadroga Bill passed, which, fortunately for members of the fire department and the police department and those affected, was passed right before almost the last day, Anderson, for lack of a better term.
We all saw what happened late in December, getting this bill pushed and getting the work done. The bill was passed. That was something that was vitally important to us at the foundation. And now we continue the work of assisting ill and injured New York City firefighters when they have nowhere else to turn. I found it important that they turn to somebody who knew what they were going through. Somebody that -- who knew what it was to be afflicted at a young age with a serious illness or injury.
And the New York City Fire Department, Anderson, it's all about brotherhood. And I heard Wolf and you speak about it earlier. We are a tight, close-knit community. Sometimes a New York City firefighter will only call on another New York City firefighter to assist him. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to be somebody that they could go to, ask for help and get help. Sometimes we're embarrassed. Sometimes we're afraid. And sometimes the only one we can turn to is another New York City firefighter.
So, yes, we are a close knit community, but we always take care of our own. Always. We make sure to the best of our ability that when we roll out the door out of a firehouse in the city of New York, that we come back the same way we left, together. Everybody goes home to their families. And the brotherhood remains still to this day as strong as it was 10 years ago.
COOPER: Well said. Kenny, appreciate your time. Thank you so much.
SPECHT: Thanks so much, Anderson. Have a great day.
COOPER: Wolf, there really is -- there's no place like New York. And there's no folks like the New York City firefighters in this great city of ours, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know. And you're a New Yorker, Anderson. You can really appreciate it. I know a lot of New Yorkers, they love the firefighters in New York. These last 10 years, nearly 10 years, has done wonders. The respect, the appreciation, the heroism that they show is something all of us appreciate. Not only firefighters in New York, I must say, but indeed all over the country, all over the world. They risk their lives for all of us, so we deeply appreciate it.
The president is on his way over to Ground Zero right now, to the memorial. He'll lay a wreath at the survivor tree, what's called. We just saw that wreath come out. The president will be there. It will be an emotional, moving ceremony. There's the wreath right there. They're getting ready for the president of the United States.
He just met with police officers. Earlier with firefighters. Much more of our special coverage coming up.
COOPER: And welcome back to Ground Zero. The president's motorcade has arrived here at Ground Zero. Ed Henry joins us now.
Ed, what are we hearing? You're getting some new details about what went on inside Precinct 1.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It was a brief visit for the president. He was sort of laying out a lot of what he had said at the fire department visit. Saying, look, when we say we never forget, we mean it. And he noted as well that he has now spoken to some members of the military team that were able to kill Osama bin Laden. And the president noted that these first responders had a role in all of this and that it was not just about the military team. That brought some applause from the police officers there.
When the president's motorcade came not far from where we are, he has now just arrived here at Ground Zero, there was a cheer that came out from the streets as well. A lot of people gathered here. And I note that one of the firefighters they met with earlier, the fire chief said earlier, the president really connected with those firefighters.
What's significant about that is, this White House got pretty annoyed with the media after the oil spill in the Gulf. All the questions about whether the president emotes enough, whether he connects with people. But in big moments like this, there is an expectation that the president is going to rise to the occasion and maybe capture that moment for the American people. The president did that after the tragedy in Tucson. Even had some Republicans saying that was a fabulous speech at that memorial service. Other times he has maybe not met that.
This is another opportunity for him, just as George W. Bush did here at Ground Zero after 9/11, just as Bill Clinton did after the Oklahoma City bombing. It's a very, very important moment for this president, Anderson.
COOPER: And, Ed, just for our viewers who are just now joining us on CNN NEWSROOM and watching on CNN International around the world, explain what's going to transpire over the next hour or so.
HENRY: The president is going to be laying a wreath. And we're expecting that he will not make any public comments. That is just in remembrance of so many who died here on 9/11.
And then he is going to go behind closed doors, and for about an hour, meet with about 10 families, we think, of victims who were lost on 9/11. And that's all going to be private, shut off to television cameras. And they realize inside the White House, when you talk to senior officials, that they are walking a very fine line here. They don't want to look like they're exploiting what happened on Sunday night when Osama bin Laden was killed, they don't want to look like they're politicizing it. We have an election coming up, obviously.
As I was walking up to Ground Zero, there were people selling Obama T-shirts and Obama buttons on the street saying "Obama got Osama." They don't want to get caught up in that, obviously. They want to try to capture the emotion of this moment, but they want to make sure that when they're dealing with families who -- as the president just noted at this police department when he made that stop, there are a lot of children who are now almost 10 years older, who have grown up without parents because of 9/11. The last thing you want to do is look like you're politicizing it.
COOPER: Yes, and, of course, Ed, we continue to follow this as we watch the preparations underway. Firefighters have been assembled, police officers, everybody waiting for President Obama. We'll, of course, bring that to you live as it's happening.
I want to bring in Erin Fisher. She's just one of the many people who suffered a great loss on 9/11. She's the oldest of seven kids in a family that lost their dad on that day. He was working in the Port Authorities operational control room.
Erin joins us now from our bureau here in New York.
Erin, as you see the pictures, as we await the president, what would you like to say to the president today?
ERIN FISHER, DAUGHTER OF 9/11 VICTIM: I'd like to say that I appreciate his efforts, even though, you know, it's been a difficult journey for all of us, I think that it will go a long way, I really hope.
COOPER: When you heard the news about bin Laden being killed, was it mixed emotions, was there a single emotion? What went through your mind?
FISHER: I didn't really have a lot going through my mind, actually. I think for some people who considered Osama Bin Laden as the symbol of terrorism, it might have brought some closure to their lives, but as far as mine went, you know, I did -- I worked really hard trying to find closure in my own way. And so for me --
FISHER: -- it was more of a government's journey to try and close that chapter.
COOPER: Erin, I just want to alert our viewers, let's just watch now as the president greets members of the fire department, from the port authority, also from the New York City police department. Joined now by Wolf Blitzer as well and John King as we watch this. We'll -- the president will also be laying that wreath. Let's listen in.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: All right, so the president of the United States, he's meeting with some politicians. You can -- you saw the governor, Andrew Cuomo, mayor Giuliani, former mayor, was there.
You see members of the Congress, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, he just gave her a little kiss, from New York. Members of the New York delegation. The mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, is there. The mayor -- the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, is there in addition to the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.
Anderson, it was a very, very emotional moment when the president laid this wreath outside what's called the survivor tree. And you could see when they paused, it was -- he closed his eyes like all of us, brought back a lot of memories.
COOPER: Yes, it certainly did. We saw some young people there, assuming they were the family members of people who were lost at ground zero. There was also, obviously, representatives of the New York City fire department, the port authority which suffered great losses as well, and the New York City police department.
It's likely now the president will shortly go in to meet privately with family members. We're told he's going to spend on hour meeting with them. I'm also here with John King from " "JOHN KING USA." This is the kind of event we have often seen presidents have and for this president, in particular, it's an important -- an important day.
JOHN KING, HOST, JOHN KING USA: The private event now with the families after the wreath laying is probably the most important part of the day. The president's chance to share his thoughts with them and to hear from them.
As Ed Henry noted earlier, there's been frustration from the family with this administration from time to time. The seemingly support for the cultural center and mosque near this site. The open support early on for having the trials in New York, that caused some tension. So, it's a chance for the president to reflect with the families on this day.
Publicly what we just saw, the Democratic governor of New York, the Republican governor of New Jersey. This very much, the mood on the spirit on the ground here very much reflective of how the country came together after 9/11. I'm not sure what we call this day. It's a day of remembrance. Bin Laden was such a singular figure.
The death of Bin Laden is not the death of global terrorism, but he was such a singular figure. The face of the horror of what happened that day. That it's a very fitting event and the mood the -- the fact that we're saying little I think is very appropriate, because just the mood of this is just -- have everybody stop, pause and reflect and now the president will spend an hour or so with those families, and it will be interesting to hear from them afterward. COOPER: Former mayor Rudy Giuliani has also been with President Obama throughout the day. We're also joined by Erin Fisher whose dad was killed on 9/11. Erin, as you watch the president lay that wreath, I'm just wondering what was going through your mind?
FISHER: I thought that it was a really respectful way to somberly acknowledge the lives that have been lost.
COOPER: And obviously your dad worked for the port authority, to have representatives of port authority there, is an important -- an important part of this day.
FISHER: Yes, and I kind of feel like I'm there, too.
COOPER: We're also joined by Wolf Blitzer. Wolf, you've got a special guest as well.
BLITZER: A very special guest, indeed, Anderson. Captain Tom Venditto, he's with engine 54, ladder 4 for battalion 9, that's the firehouse that the president visited about an hour or so ago. He met with the firefighters, had lunch with them.
Captain, thank you very much for being with us. We know that 15 firefighters from engine 54, ladder 4, battalion 9, were killed on 9/11. Set the scene inside, how did that session with the president today go?
TOM VENDITTO, CAPTAIN, FIRE DEPARTMENT: The session went really well. I was really glad when the president came. He spoke about us as firefighters and acknowledged the work that we do. He spoke about the families and the great sacrifices that - the families of lost members, that is, and the great sacrifices that they made. And he even spoke about the children, who to this day still live with these great losses. So, he was really good, very friendly, very easy going and very personable.
BLITZER: Remind our viewers, captain, what happened nearly ten years ago on that day, September 11th, when word reached your firehouse that there was a problem down at the World Trade Center.
VENDITTO: Well, as you know, all the firefighters that were on duty that day had responded to the World Trade Center, including the chief and his driver. So, all the firefighters that were on duty, including the chief, were on -- they were out of the firehouse at the World Trade Center. So, they were the first ones to know what was going on down there. The rest of us, as firefighters, were on off tours. We were home with our families for the most part.
BLITZER: And then a lot of the off duty firefighters, they simply rushed down there, even though they weren't on duty, because they knew there was an emergency going on.
VENDITTO: That's correct. That's correct. As firefighters, we have something called recall. So we all knew instinctively that our place was at New York City, at our job. And when the emergency unfolded, largely on the news, we all got in our cars and came to work. BLITZER: Do you know, captain, if the 15 firefighters from your firehouse who were killed, were they on duty that day or did they just rush in even though they weren't on duty?
VENDITTO: No, all the firefighters in my firehouse were on duty that day. Half of them were due to get off in about 10 minutes and they chose to respond and they went on the box anyway. So, yes, everyone was on duty that day doing their job.
BLITZER: How important is it to you, captain, that Osama bin Laden is now dead?
VENDITTO: Well, it's not so much that bin Laden is dead. What's important to me is that justice was done. Ten years ago a crime was committed. We were attacked by terrorists and there was large suffering and a lot of deaths in this nation. We lost a lot of firefighters and civilians alike. It was important that the united States show that you can't commit a crime to our country like that and get away with it. So I'm really happy that justice was done. Not necessarily that we got Osama, but that he has stopped his activities. That's what's important to us. And important to the families who had suffered such great losses that day.
BLITZER: So when you heard the president say at your firehouse, we will never forget, we mean exactly what we say, justice will be done. That's precisely what you wanted to hear from the commander in chief.
VENDITTO: Yes, sir. That's exactly what we want to hear. As firefighters, we're mostly concerned that people remember the sacrifice that we have made, our brothers have made and remember their families who endure today with their losses every day, with the loss of those members. There are children that have no fathers. Parents that lost sons and wives that lost their husbands. They live with the losses each and every day. So we're really happy that President Obama acknowledged that and spoke plainly about it. And he was very emotional about it as well.
BLITZER: Did you have a chance to personally speak with the president, captain?
VENDITTO: I just answered a couple of simple questions that he asked.
BLITZER: Can you share with us what we asked?
VENDITTO: No big deal. Boy, oh, boy. What did he ask me? He asked us about the nature of our work. This firehouse, we do about 5,000 runs for each company. And he asked us basically why that was. And I was explaining to him that it's a large population center and it's a diverse neighborhood and so on and so forth. And we talked about that kind of thing. It's our daily routine.
BLITZER: Were you there at the table when he was having a delicious lunch with your fellow firefighters?
VENDITTO: Yes, actually, all the firefighters on duty today were at the table with the president. And ex-Mayor Giuliani was there. And maybe two secret service people. The door was closed and it was just us. It was very warm. Very nice. It was very informal. He's a very friendly person.
BLITZER: Did he eat all of that, what was it, eggplant parmesan? Veal parmesan? What did he have?
VENDITTO: Yes, he ate quite a bit. Actually, no, just joking. He ate a moderate amount of food. A few bites. And he had a nice salad with us. And I think he was happy to be there. He was very loquacious, big talker, but very friendly, very approachable. I really didn't get the feeling that I was with the president of the United States. It was very easy. Very enjoyable. I'll never forget it.
BLITZER: I'm sure you won't and I'm sure your fellow firefighters will never forget it either.
Captain, on behalf of all of our viewers, thank you so much for what you're doing. I know this is a very special day for you. But be aware that everyone always appreciates firefighters, especially after 9/11, because what you do risking your lives every single day is so, so very important. We appreciate it very much, Captain Tom Venditto. I hope I'm pronouncing your name right, captain. Thanks so much for spending some time with us.
VENDITTO: Perfect, sir. Thank you very much.
Anderson, just one of the many heroes in New York City. You've got a lot of them there.
COOPER: Yes, the firefighters, the police officers, members of the Port Authority as well.
I'm here along with John King. We also have standing by is David Gergen.
David, where do you think this story of Osama bin Laden, of the killing of him, goes? Because, I mean, over the last several days, it has evolved, questions have been raised. Do you think that continues or do you think after today people start to move on or -- and not sort of pursue the details so much?
GERGEN: Well, Anderson, we -- the president is going to Kentucky tomorrow, as you know, and to thank the troops. And that's also going to be an important day.
But I've been wondering the same thing you have, because there have been so many -- there's been this sort of storm of questions, second guessing so many aspects of Sunday night since Sunday. And yet today is bringing us back, doesn't it, to the importance of what happened and how we're bringing, perhaps to an end, 10 years of warfare and how important the killing of bin Laden has been.
I think today has been one which the president is succeeding at the call he made on Sunday night. At first when he said it, I wasn't sure it would ring true, but I think it is now, and that is his call for national unity. His visit to New York seems to me to -- and reaching out to the firefighters and the police and doing so well with the families is deepening the sense of unity, you know, and hopefully prolonging it. And I think that maybe it will override some of these -- the questioning, the carping that we've seen in the last few days.
So I think it's a really good question, will this now change the tone back to -- and put us back on a higher level? I hope so.
COOPER: Now, John King, what do you think?
KING: I think that the tone in Washington will change, but not for long because of the substance and the profound disagreements over the issues to come. However, if there's more of a sense of respect and a sense of community heading into those debates, maybe they'll be more civil.
I do think to your point about will there be more questions asked about the specifics of the operation? Of course there will be. I do think, though, that for those especially here and the families, you're hearing more of the pain today, the personal -- there's many chapters in what we now call the war on terror. There are 100,000 troops still in Afghanistan. Al Zawahiri, the number two, is still out there. Al Awaki, the al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, has emerged. An American, a 40-year-old American could be the global face of terrorism right now. Those narratives will continue. But I do think that wreath laying is the final page in the hunt for bin Laden chapter. The personal part of it.
COOPER: And in terms of the White House, do they continue to answer questions? Because in the last day, as you pointed out earlier, they've started to kind of draw a line.
KING: They have drawn a line and not saying more because they don't want to say more and then be proven wrong. Are they going to have to fill in all the details? Yes. Will books be written about the operations? Yes. Will two years, five years, and 10 years from now, we'll be learning new details when some of these hero, these commandos retire, will they write their own books? So we will have conflicting accounts. We will have revisions to the accounts. The details will change and evolve over time. And hopefully someday history, usually takes 25 years or so they tell you, before you get the version you trust.
But to the big picture chapter, Tora Bora, get him dead or alive. How did we let him get away? Are the Pakistanis harboring him? There are still even some policy and political questions to be answered there. But I think the personal part of it, it was a -- it was a -- it became personal. It became personal. There were 17 hijackers on those planes. There are al Qaeda operatives still around the world. Many have been killed in capture. But bin Laden was the face. And I think coming here to this solemn site and having the wreath laying, now spending some time with the families, closes the personal chapter in the hunt for bin Laden, which was painful. Painful from a policy standpoint, painful from a political standpoint. A lot more to come in this story. But bin Laden is dead is a pretty powerful statement. COOPER: Yes, one chapter.
BLITZER: You know, Anderson, John, I don't want to forget what's happening here in Washington over at the Pentagon right now. We've got some live pictures I want to show our viewers. All of us remember what happened on 9/11 over at the Pentagon. There's a memorial service that's about to take place there as well. You see -- I think you can see the former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, there. He's there. The vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, will lay a wreath there. We saw Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security. Others have gathered on this special day. Let's not forget what happened at the Pentagon on that day.
Rumsfeld is behind that individual in the blue shirt with the sort of silver-white hair. There he is right there. You can see him in the middle of the screen. He was the defense secretary on 9/11 when all of this went down. So there's a memorial service there on this special day.
We'll be seeing the vice president, Joe Biden, fairly soon we're told. He will lay a wreath. And what the president of the United States did at Ground Zero at the memorial there, laying a wreath at what's called the survivor tree, the vice president will do something very similar over at the Pentagon. That's the wreath that the president laid over at Ground Zero.
It's one of those days that a lot of us will always remember. And I think, Anderson, as we look back on this day, what we'll remember most are the family members. The president is now meeting with some of those family members. The pain they go through every single day remembering their mothers, their fathers, their sons, their daughters, their grandparents, among the nearly 3,000 people who were killed. And the president will have a chance right now at a building not far from where he laid this wreath to just talk to them, to hear from them and to reflect on this special day only a few days after bin Laden was killed.
COOPER: Yes, anybody who's lost loved ones knows the time helps somewhat, but the pain, of course, never goes away.
We, of course, are going to continue to cover this throughout the day. No doubt we'll be talking to some of the family members who met with President Obama. We'll hear some of what he had to say to them. But some of it will remain private. And, of course, that's the way it should be. I'll have a lot more tonight at "360" at 10:00 p.m. John King also will have a lot to cover on "JOHN KING USA" at 7:00 p.m. tonight on CNN.
And, Wolf, you'll be on I think every other hour of the day, no doubt, covering all the other details.
BLITZER: We'll be back in "THE SITUATION ROOM," our situation room, not the White House situation room, our "Situation Room," at 5:00 p.m. Eastern for special coverage of this very, very special day. And just to recap, the president is now inside meeting with family members. He'll be spending some quality time with them. And then he'll head over -- on Marine One he'll head back to the airport and fly back to Washington, D.C. And as we've heard, he's got special plans for tomorrow as well. Specifically thanking some of those Navy SEALs who went out there, risked their own lives, to go and get Osama bin Laden.
The president of the United States laying the wreath at Ground Zero just a little while ago. Our special coverage of this and much more will continue. Thanks very much for joining us.