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Byline: Joline Gutierrez Krueger JGLENN@ABQTRIB.COM / 823-3603
9.11.01 OUR DAY OF INFAMY
Former New Mexican Eric Draper, President Bush's personal photographer, documented a determined commander in chief in the chaotic hours after the terrorist attacks
Cell phones and pagers were buzzing like mad hornets in the small Sarasota, Fla., classroom crammed with journalists, giddy second-graders, somber Secret Service agents and President Bush, there to sell his education plan and pose for the cameras with 7-year-olds.
One by one the journalists were learning through their calls and pages the same shattering news that seconds ago had been whispered in the president's ear:
"A second plane has hit the World Trade Center," Andy Card, Bush's chief of staff, had told him. "America is under attack."
Life in America changed that moment on Sept. 11, 2001, and everyone in that tiny classroom knew it except the second-graders of Emma E. Booker Elementary School.
And Eric Draper.
"I'm thinking, still not knowing there was an attack, OK, it's time to cover the event and stay out of the way of the press and just do my thing in the corner of the room," said Draper, a former Rio Rancho photojournalist and Albuquerque Tribune staffer handpicked by Bush to serve as his personal photographer.
Through his lens, Draper, 38, has come to know Bush's every gesture, every expression, every glare and twinkle. In his role as preserver of presidential Kodak moments, he has seen Bush in ways few outside the White House inner circle are allowed.
"I am like that fly on the wall," Draper said.
Looking through his lens that moment he noticed a subtle distracted change come over his boss's face. And as talk among reporters grew louder, Draper soon learned why.
"I started overhearing people in the room, and I knew I had to stay glued to the president's expressions," Draper said. "I studied his face to see how he was reacting. I could tell he was thinking about what he had just heard and at the same time he was holding his composure. It was pretty amazing to me how he could not show any sign of panic. He kept doing what needed to be done."
A few minutes later Draper was following Bush and his aides to another classroom where a television played and replayed the horrifying scenes of planes crashing and people running and the World Trade Center towers afire.
It was just the beginning of a long, excruciating, confusing day of decisions and doubt and doing what needed to be done.
Draper was there for it all, his camera clicking, the fly on the wall of Sept. 11.
"I knew I basically had to get everything I could on film," he said in an interview from his home in Washington, D.C. "I knew at that point it was going to be a really important day. I hadn't realized how bad it was going to get."
Sept. 11 began like most days with an early morning 4 …