BETHANY, W.Va. – The United States is not a great nation because of its military power, but because of the resilience of its people, retired Marine Lt. Col. Robert J. Darling said Saturday, Sept. 28, during the Larry E. Grimes Lecture at Bethany College.

“The true resilience of our country is ordinary people who are willing to do extraordinary things,” Darling said.

Darling served with the White House Military Office’s Airlift Operations Department, a position in which he supported President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the underground President’s Emergency Operation Center on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Darling Grimes LectureDarling chronicled the leadership and decision-making of the top U.S. officials on that day in his book, “24 Hours inside the President’s Bunker, 9/11/01: The White House.”

Darling retired from the Marine Corps in 2007 with more than 20 years of active-duty service that included piloting attack helicopters in Desert Shield and Desert Storm and serving as a presidential pilot with Marine Helicopter Squadron One.

During Saturday’s lecture, he gave the audience an hour-by-hour account of the certainties and uncertainties facing U.S. leaders as the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfolded.

Darling borrowed a quote from President George W. Bush: “I will not forget this wound to our country, or those who inflicted it,” he said. “I will not yield. I will not rest.”

Darling said the goal of his book and his speaking engagements is for everyone to remember the attacks and how the nation came together.

“This is not just an inside story of what took place at the highest point of our government, but this is a reminder we were attacked and we can be attacked again,” he said.

It’s our job as Americans to come together and get to know each other, he added.

“Instead of destroying us, they ended up unifying us in a way never seen before,” Darling said of the 9/11 attacks.
One audience member, who said she was just 1 year old at the time of the 9/11 attacks, said she has noticed disconnect from those who can’t remember the attacks from those who can. How, she asked, can her generation become more connected?

Darling was quick with his response: “Travel.”

He encouraged all students to take travel as much as they can and to take advantage of study abroad programs.

“We’re inundated with politics,” he said. “We’re not inundated with people. Once you get out and you realize that there are human beings are on the other side of their policies.”

The annual lecture honors longtime Bethany English professor and renowned Hemingway Scholar Larry Grimes. He spent 39 years teaching students to learn from and love literature, and in 2014 Grimes personally delivered the inaugural lecture.

In introducing Darling, Alumni Council President Kristi Buren said the goal of the lecture series is to get many different voices to campus.

“I think we’ve done that,” she said, “but it wouldn’t be possible without your donations.”

The series has hosted best-selling author Wiley Cash, astrophysicist and Bethany alumnus Adrian Melott, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, and Rock the Vote President Ashley Spillane.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.