Do you remember where you were when you heard the news about the first airplane hitting the World Trade Center tower? What about the second airplane hitting the other tower? Where were you when you heard about the airplane crashing into a field in Pennsylvania? Do you remember where you were when the airplane hit the Pentagon?
I remember where I was. And for some of us, we will never forget. For all those families that lost someone, and all the people that lived through that nightmare with some still in pain today, my thoughts and prayers are still with you.
This is my story of that tragic morning’s events. My story is just one of thousands and is not meant to take away from any others. There are probably stories that may never be told because of the impact in made on an individual’s life. It was a life changing event for all Americans and probably for some of our international friends.
Although I have told this story to those that have inquired, I have not written the complete story for others to read. Even after almost 9 years, I am still in some disbelief that it really happened. But I witnessed one of the events and it is still very vivid in my mind.
I arrived at the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11 and it was business as usual. I was sitting at my desk when I heard one of my co-workers calling people to the conference room to see what was on the news. We stood and sat there staring at the TV wondering how an airplane could fly into the World Trade Center tower. We speculated there must have been some mechanical problem with the airplane for the pilot to not be able to steer away from the building. And then right there on the TV, we saw the second airplane crash into the other tower. We were all in total shock. How could this be? What was happening? And then it hit us. These were not accidents, they had to be intentional.
Within minutes, our boss was called down to the General’s conference room for a meeting about what was going on. He advised us all to hang loose until he could find out some more information. Not understanding what was going on was very uncomfortable so I decided to take a walk down to the Pentagon center courtyard. I had been out there many times before. It was a nice place to sit and think through things.
I noticed the sound of an airplane and most of the time, it was normal hearing them going into and out of Reagan National Airport nearby. But this time, the airplane sounded a lot closer. I heard the engines spool up towards full throttle and then it happened. I heard it, felt it and when I turned in the direction of the sound, I saw a fire ball going up over the Pentagon on the west side. I knew exactly what it was. An airplane had hit the Pentagon.
People started running and screaming. It was very surreal. I took about 5 steps towards that part of the Pentagon and stopped. In a split second, it ran through my head that if the World Trade Center had 2 airplanes hit it, was there going to be a second airplane to hit the Pentagon on the east side? This is where a lot of the senior leaders had their offices. The Pentagon is a huge building so it was possible that people on the east side of the building had not even heard the crash. And if they had heard anything, they would have probably passed it off to construction going on in another part of the building.
I was in a dilemma. Did I try to go help those that may have survived or go warn those that were not aware of what had just happened? To this day, I wonder if I made the right decision. If there was going to be a second airplane, I thought I might be able to get some people out of the building before it got there.
As I was running back to my office and up 5 flights of stairs, I was yelling for people to get out of the building that an airplane had just hit the west side. Some looked at me like I was crazy and others took off running down the halls. When I got back to my office area, I started telling everyone we had to get out of the building. They were all confused because they too, did not know an airplane had just hit the west side. I told them what I had witnessed and repeated we needed to get out now in case there was another airplane heading for our side of the building. By the time we got out into the hallway, smoke was rolling along the ceiling of the corridor.
We were knocking on office doors all along the hallway telling people to get out of the building as we headed for the South entrance. As we got closer to the exit, security police were now directing people to the exits and telling us to hurry. Once out the door, everyone took off in a full run out into the parking lot, far away from the building.
You could see the smoke bellowing up from the impact area on the west side. People were in total astonishment; some just staring at nothing, some shaking their heads, some wandering around looking for their co-workers, some trying to use their cell phones and some were crying. It was overwhelming to think about how the morning’s events had unfolded.
We stood out in the parking lot for a long time and were eventually asked to disburse. We were told to go home, be with our families and report back for duty the next day. The majority of us used public transportation to get to work but everything had been shut down. We had to walk approximately 3 miles to get to an area where public transportation was available. Cell phones were still out of service due to the event so we could not contact our families to let them know we were OK. I finally got through to my wife and told her of the situation. Family and friends had heard of the airplane crash into the Pentagon and had been calling her to find out about me. She told me to call my Mom first.
My Mom was very happy to hear my voice and know I was alright. I still remember what she had to say; “Of all the places you have been stationed in the Air Force, and all the bad weather you have flown your helicopter in, I would have thought your assignment at the Pentagon would be the safest place.” It took all I had left in me to keep from breaking down while talking to my Mom.
There were 3 people living in a very small subdivision in Northern Virginia that worked at the Pentagon including myself. My neighbor across the street was an Army Colonel. Later that day, he told me he had left the Pentagon for a meeting 15 minutes before the airplane hit. The majority of the people in his office had perished in the attack. My next door neighbor was a civilian employee that worked in the finance office. His office was also near the impact area and he was there. He was the first victim that was flown out by medievac helicopter after the attack. He suffered second and third degree burns over 70% of his body. It was a miracle he survived; some of his fellow office co-workers were not as fortunate.
The events and things I saw from the attacks on 9/11 have been permanently embedded in my mind. These will be with me the rest of my life. It could have easily been me. I can only imagine that the events and things that happened on 9/11 have affected numerous other thousands of people in the same way. It was a heartrending day and it continues for some people today.
On the 11th of September, I respectfully request that you take a moment to honor those individuals that lost their lives back in 2001. And if you read this after the 11th, feel free to take a moment anytime to reflect. Here is a quote that you may have seen before that is still true today: “Our Loss Will Not Be Forgotten”.
I was a Major in the US Air Force and had been stationed at the Pentagon for less than a year. I had been selected for Lt Colonel and my promotion ceremony was scheduled for September 28, 2001. I was excited about moving up to the next rank and looked forward to sharing this celebration with my family, friends and co-workers. I was still promoted, but I cancelled the ceremony. It was not a time to celebrate.