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Bush reflects on 9/11: A "turning point in American life"

As the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 nears, the man at the center of the historic attacks on U.S. soil is now speaking candidly on his personal experience and reflecting on his decision-making as he unexpectedly became a wartime president.

The raw interview with Former President George W. Bush, in which he calls 9/11 his "defining moment" and a "turning point in American life," airs on National Geographic on August 28. Hotsheet has previewed the film at a Washington screening.

Mr. Bush said he never wanted to be a wartime president and that he made decisions as best he could "in the fog of war." Even in the days immediately following 9/11, Mr. Bush said he "didn't have a strategy" and acted "day by day."

He described his first thoughts upon hearing news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center as angry: "Who the hell would do that to America?"

Criticized by some for his initial reaction in the Florida classroom, Mr. Bush made no apologies in the film and maintained that he wanted to "project a sense of calm" for the elementary school students.

As then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card approached the president with news of a second plane strike, Mr. Bush said he felt a "presence behind me" and described watching the press corps decipher his reaction like "watching a silent movie."

He called his first statement of the day "hasty," recounting that parents at the event expected to hear about their school's reading program and instead heard "America is under attack."

In his third and final statement of the day, Mr. Bush said he got "as close" to declaring war on the enemy as he could, but didn't. He was also adamant to return to Washington and make this address in the Oval Office.

"I damn sure wasn't going to give an address from a bunker in Nebraska," adding that he wasn't going to give the enemy "that psychological victory."

He describes 9/11 as a day that started with a jog in Florida, and also ended with a jog.

When an F-16 flew into White House airspace, Mr. Bush, Laura and their Scottish terrier, Barney, were rushed to a bunker for fear the landmark was under a terrorist attack.

Throughout the day, Mr. Bush said one of his concerns, "like the concerns of other husbands and wives, was, 'was my spouse OK? Was Laura OK? And my second concern was, 'were our girls OK?'" He described hearing from the first lady as "awesome."

Mr. Bush reflected on the "most powerless" he has ever felt -- as he watched people jump to their deaths from the World Trade Center buildings and "there was nothing I could do about it."

The former president agreed to sit down with producer/director Peter Schnall for this interview for two days in the first week of May. On May 1 around dinnertime, he received the call from the White House that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

Mr. Bush said he didn't feel "any great sense of happiness or jubilation" when President Obama shared this news, just "a sense of closure."

In his closing thoughts, Mr. Bush said 9/11 will someday be a date on the calendar "like Pearl Harbor Day. For those of us who lived through it, it'll be a day we never forget."