SAN ANTONIO — Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Ginger Blazicko laughs, looking at her picture with former President George W. Bush.
He signed the photo that depicts the two shaking hands on Sept. 17, 2001. There is a short note on the back, cheekily thanking the New York native for moving to Texas.
"He really liked that," she says, putting the picture back in its frame.
Blazicko handled public affairs for the Department of Defense, essentially helping to answer reporters' questions about the military. She says she was handling a "hot" story in the outer 'E' ring of the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
Whatever that reporter was working on, she chuckles, didn't matter as much after morning turned afternoon.
That Tuesday, she'd been on the phone with her husband, also an Air Force veteran, discussing the smoke billowing from the Twin Towers in New York.
The call dropped and the lights went out soon after terrorists flew a plane into Pentagon's western wing, adjacent to her office space.
"That thing is like a rock," she said, making reference to the defense building. "But you could feel it."
"I was like, 'I've got to grab my baby pictures,'" she said. "I mean, the things that you think of... You know you've got to do things, but the human side comes up."
The couple reconnected with each other and their young children hours later, as the Department of Defense headquarters burned.
She returned to her office the following day.
"Every day we came in," she said. "It was a source of pride."
As they worked, some sections of the building did not have power. When the building creaked and settled, she says she'd wonder if someone was attacking the Pentagon again.
She'd labored six straight days, smelling burning wire and fuel in the smoldering building, when Bush visited. She guided reporters through the rubble, as camera crews collected video.
"You couldn't help but see the hole," she says.
Still, she says she considered herself "one of the lucky ones" who made out. Had she been on a different assignment that day, she says she might not have survived.
It's why she made sure her daughters understood the gravity of the day. The two girls, one a toddler and the other an infant during the attack, are now Air Force students.
"Two decades of children now - of families - have been impacted by this," she said. "We have to look at it and I think we have to pay attention to it."
Blazicko says people don't often ask her about the day, so she doesn't speak about it much.
She wonders how teachers explain the attacks in K-12 schools.
"I don't know if we talk about it any other time," she says. "You've got to recognize why it happened and how it happened. Those kinds of things - you can't just talk about it in one day."
She hopes lessons on 9/11 will become curricula staples, not just annual discussions. She says it's hard to make the world a better place, twenty years later, unless people understand why the attacks happened.
She says Americans should embrace cultural differences and seek to understand other people in a more selfless way.
"If we don't look at it, you repeat things."