And it emerged that they held a special resonance for him because his wife narrowly escaped death in the twin towers.
“It will never leave me. It can never leave anybody who was there. It’s impossible,” he said,
But on Tuesday it was his glamorous wife, Suzanne, who stunned a private reception with the news that she had narrowly missed being killed in the second tower.
“I was almost hit too – I was running late for work and my boss told me ‘get the hell out here’. Shortly after the second tower fell down.”
The daughter of a first generation Ukrainian had been working as an equity sales woman at Sandler O’Neill & Partners, on the 104th floor.
A Cornell business graduate, she had already made her first million six years before and had taken a 12-month career break in which she went to Hollywood to try her hand at acting, gaining parts in TV series such as Star trek: Deep Space Nine and the films Pontiac Moon (1994) .
A 2002 account of her story in Forbes magazine tells how she had come to work late because she had been entertaining clients the evening before.
In that interview, it was revealed that she was on the phone with her boss at 8.30am when she heard the explosion. The last thing she remembered her boss and mentor Herman Sandler saying was, ‘Goddamn terrorists,’ before the line went dead.
Neither he nor 65 other people in the firm survived.
She helped to restructure the company, saying later. “I just worked through it all”.
Mrs Johnson revealed her near-death experience on Tuesday, at a private reception thrown by her husband for members of the emergency services at his official residence, Winfield House, in Regent’s Park.
“It’s the kind of thing Ambassador Johnson likes to do – he takes 9/11 very seriously and admires first responders,” said one insider.
Recounting his own 9/11 experience later, he said: “I was at 64th and Lexington that morning working out at a gym. We heard screams when people saw something happen. Nobody knew what it was – it looked like a small plane from that vantage point.
“But by the time I walked back to 5th Avenue on my way to the office on 64th and 5th I noticed everyone was walking the wrong way. There were no cars. It was about then that the buildings fell. They’d already closed down all the bridges, the tunnels, the roads, everything.. Everyone was glued to their televisions to try to figure out what was going on.
“After he second one hit it became pretty clear this was no accident.”
He added: “To see hardened New Yorkers willing to run up into a building and save other people as well as the first responders, was remarkable.
“There was a fireman who just left his car it because the tunnels were closed, put on his fire gear, 70lb worth, and ran to the tower, without knowing what he was going to find, and then of course the building collapsed on top of him and killed him.
“That’s the kind of selfless heroism we’re talking about. And I think it will remain a part of our society going forward.”