Q: The attacks set off the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Did either of you have an inkling that the mission that killed him was in the works?
JB: I didn't have a clue. Joe left early and was gone all day. Didn't come home for a meal — nothing. So I knew something was happening, but I thought it was about Libya. [When I heard,] I was grading papers and watching TV.
MO: I knew something was happening, but when it gets down to that level of secrecy, there's just a small number of people who know anything.
Q: So when did you find out?
MO: I was actually out to dinner with girlfriends, and I didn't know until I walked in the door. It was later in the evening, and Barack had his suit on, because he was going to the press conference. And I said, "What's going on?"
Q: And your reaction?
MO: I was, like, "Wow." Then I wanted to know the details: "How did it happen? Then what? And then what happened?" I was probably like every media person.
Q: Was he too hurried to explain?
MO: No, he sat down. And then I sat down and talked to Malia to make sure she was aware, because the crowds [outside the White House] were starting to form.
JB: We sat down, too. It was about 12:30 a.m. I had been waiting outside in my bathrobe, sitting on the steps of our residence, and I could hear people singing "God Bless America" in the distance. When Joe came home I said, "Did you call our kids?" And we just talked through it.
Q: There's the now-iconic picture of everybody gathered around the television screen in the Situation Room. What do you see in your husbands' expressions that others may not?
MO: You send 24 young men on a mission that you can watch but you can't do anything about. It probably felt —
MO: Surreal. And they probably felt as helpless as parents feel when they send their kids off to war.
Q: You said you sat down with Malia [who's 13]. What did you say, when all around her, people were celebrating a death?
MO: I think kids instinctively feel that ambivalence — is this good or is this bad? And then you have to explain in a way that says it's not good, but it's good. The older kids, I think, get it. It's a convoluted set of concepts. But I think they understand, when it's placed in context.
Q: The President has declared September 11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance. How do you get people to embrace it as more than a one-day wonder?
JB: Well, I think Barack has always said that this should be commemorated as an opportunity for service.
MO: And the population that AARP serves has some of the highest numbers of people who volunteer. But you don't have to wait till 9/11. We've got military families who are in need today, and our Joining Forces call to action is a way to use that wonderful time and energy and direct it toward some of these families.
Q: So how can people support Joining Forces?
MO: We're telling Americans to do what you do best. People don't have to reinvent themselves. If you live near a base, there are plenty of opportunities, whether it's throwing a baby shower for expectant mothers or doing things at the schools with military kids or offering to drive a car pool. Those things matter.