Nashvillian reflects on being real-life designated survivor ahead of ABC premiere tonight

Courtesy: Alberto Gonzales

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – With much of the country just learning about the title of the new ABC show “Designated Survivor,” a prominent Nashville resident once played the role in real life on wintry Washington night in 2007.

Alberto Gonzales, who is now Dean of the Belmont University College of Law after serving a decade ago as U.S. Attorney General, describes being the “designated survivor” for a few hours during the State of the Union address nearly nine years ago.

“As I listened to President George W. Bush addressing the nation, I felt for the first time the full weight of the consequences (as unlikely as they were) of a catastrophic attack,” he writes in the prologue to his brand new book, “True Faith and Allegiance: A Story of Service and Sacrifice in War and Peace.”

The former Attorney General describes spending much of that January 2007 evening in the air “on a large government airplane… equipped to serve as a flying command center.”

In this image released by ABC, Kiefer Sutherland portrays Tom Kirkman in a scene from, "Designated Survivor," premiering Wednesday, Sept. 21. (Ben Mark Holzberg/ABC via AP)
In this image released by ABC, Kiefer Sutherland portrays Tom Kirkman in a scene from, “Designated Survivor,” premiering Wednesday, Sept. 21. (Ben Mark Holzberg/ABC via AP)

Gonzales remembered the gravity of the moment by adding, “A senior member of every major federal department and agency accompanied me, each carrying thick binders laying out protocols and classified procedures to advise me in the event I assumed the presidency following a disaster in Washington.”

During the few hours in the air, he writes about glancing at those “individuals who would become part of my new team should the unthinkable occur. I wondered momentarily if we would be up to the job of governing a wounded nation in the face of such a horrific nightmare.”

The once “designated survivor” ends his book prologue by saying he “breathed a sigh of relief” when the plane returned to Andrews Air Force Base “with a whole new appreciated for the person serving as the president of the United States.”

During an interview Tuesday afternoon in his Belmont law school office, Gonzales wondered what time the show would be on News 2. It premieres at 9 p.m.

He described himself as “curious” about how the events will be portrayed, but he has already taken issue with promo material seen daily about the show where designated survivor Kiefer Sutherland opens a curtain to see the U.S. Capitol being blown up.

“That is ridiculous,” he chuckled. “Because you are going to want the designated survivor pretty to be far away. You don’t know if it is a tactical nuke that may take out half of Washington.”

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