It’s hard to believe that the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is almost here. It was one of those events, like Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination, which remains in the memory with startling clarity. From where I was working in the Government Printing Office (GPO), we could see the column of smoke from the strike on the Pentagon. Later, after Federal Government facilities in the DC area closed down, I walked from GPO to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (I still remember a woman telling a Smithsonian guard that she had seen someone on the building’s roof – and who could tell what that meant in a world spinning out of control?) to meet my wife, who by some miracle got into the District and picked me up. On the way home, we drove past the Pentagon. It looked like the set of a disaster movie, the windows in the stricken area appearing as little orange rectangles of flame in a floodtide of black smoke. Several years later, after a reconstruction that left no sign of the horrific damage, I was in the Pentagon on business and our escort mentioned that we were walking in the corridor through which Flight 77 smashed – an awesome and saddening moment.
Several years ago, the Office of the Secretary of Defense published what must be considered the definitive story of September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon. Pentagon 9/11 is packed with eyewitness accounts of the strike, the fires, the deaths, and the heroism of rescuers in the face of almost unimaginable disaster. It’s chilling to read eyewitness descriptions of Flight 77 flying into the Pentagon (more than 1,300 interviews went into the development of this book), and uplifting to find out how some badly injured staffers and outside rescuers helped others to escape the resulting inferno. As the book notes, “There could not have been as many survivors of the attack on the Pentagon without the persistent and selfless acts of others – military and civilian – who were themselves caught in the maelstrom or came unhesitatingly from elsewhere in the building to respond to the desperate circumstances facing the many victims trapped in the wreckage.”
Another chapter describes the efforts of firefighters to extinguish those orange rectangles of flame I saw that day, fed by thousands of gallon of jet fuel. Other sections cover medical treatment of the victims, securing the building, helping the survivors and the families of the victims, and the gigantic effort that allowed the Pentagon to be declared “open for business” on September 12. It’s a dramatic story, and Pentagon 9/11 tells it both factually and with compassion.
You can access this excellent book in multiple ways. To browse though it, go here. GPO still has copies of the first edition and will soon have a 10th anniversary edition with a new Foreword by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. You can also find an eBook version here. Finally, it’s also available in many libraries. Whichever format you choose, you’ll be rewarded by an unforgettable reading experience.