WASHINGTON. President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump laid a wreath at a Pentagon ceremony Wednesday. They were there to honor and remember the 125 Pentagon casualties of the September 9, 2001 terrorist attack on the headquarters of the US Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. The tragic 9-11 attack occurred almost simultaneously with the terrorist attack that brought down the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City along with a massive death toll.
Remembering the Pentagon casualties and the deaths aboard American Airlines Flight 77
Area residents who lived here inside and outside the Beltway still remember that horrific, almost surreal bright and sunny morning on 9-11-2001 when first news, then video hit the wires about an unfolding tragedy that would mark the worst attack on US soil since Pearl Harbor kicked off World War II for this country.
At the time of the Pentagon attack, I was working as a contractor to the Federal government and had just arrived at the company’s Arlington, Virginia offices dressed to the 9s. I was shortly to catch a cab and head for the US Department of State to attend a swearing-in ceremony for a friend who had just been appointed as a US Ambassador. The ceremony was to be officiated by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Did terrorists attack the US State Department as well? Rumors ran wild
Then, news of the Pentagon attack spread up and down the hallways of our building. The area around the Pentagon, along with much of the Nation’s Capital City, just across the Potomac River from the attack, was locked down. I attempted to get through to the State Department’s switchboard, but got no answer. Then, unconfirmed reports popped up on the radio, indicating that the State Department had also been hit in another attack. That was disconcerting, to say the least.
Clearly, I wouldn’t be heading downtown for the State Department ceremony. Things grew worse as many in our office, including myself, gravitated toward windows that looked, in a general direction, toward the Pentagon. We couldn’t see that building from our vantage point, roughly 2-3 miles northwest. But we could clearly see the massive, billowing clouds of opaque black smoke in the distance – clearly the sign of a massive, oily jet fuel fire that was out of control.
The uncertain fate of friends and colleagues
Our company had additional worries, as several of our contractors were already at work in the Pentagon when the American Airlines jetliner, Flight 77, along with its doomed human cargo, plowed into the Western Wing of the nation’s massive central military headquarters. We couldn’t get through to the switchboard there, either, to check on our colleagues. For obvious reasons. But it was still frustrating and disconcerting to be left in the dark. But the question lingered: Were our colleagues included in the growing estimates of Pentagon casualties?
The Federal government and the military built the Pentagon – a squat, massive, famously five-sided building with concentric office wings – with solid construction. They meant the building to withstand potential enemy attacks in the months approaching the outset of the Second World War. The Feds completed it in record time in January of 1943.
The nearly 60-year old heavily reinforced landmark didn’t completely withstand the unexpected 9-11 attack by commercial airliner that it sustained in 2001. But much of the edifice did stand firm as a legion of area police, firemen and safety personnel swarmed the building to put out the massive fire caused by the crash and to save or salvage what they could.
Unfortunately, sheer horror and a hellish firestorm was what greeted their arrival. The area hit by the attack suffered massive damage and was where most of the Pentagon casualties were discovered. Many of these deaths were due to the intense fire and heat. But others resulted from smoke inhalation, due to that massive, jet fuel-fed and billowing black smoke we could see (and smell) even miles away from the blast.
A capital area mired in uncertainty, fear and anger
Back up the street, huddled in our offices, most of us just stayed put. We intently watched the news on the small TVs that continued to materialize. It became our default position, as the government had decided to evacuate nearly all workers from all Federal buildings and send them home.
As a result, D.C. and other area governments temporarily re-routed most major highways out of the District beyond as one-way highways out of the capital city. And presumably, out of danger. Much like state and local governments evacuate coastal areas of the US in advance of major hurricanes.
As a result, we noticed that heavy traffic jammed the roads beneath our office tower. So we just hung around, glued to small array of old cathode ray TVs scattered throughout several offices. Obviously, no work would happen on this fateful and sadly memorable day. Uncertainty, fear and anger gripped the area and government and civilian employees alike were vowing that America could not allow this attack to go unanswered and, frankly, unavenged.
Good news amidst the bad
For my company, at least, news later in the day was good. Our guys got out of the Pentagon alive and well. They were lucky enough to be working away from the blast- and fire-destroyed Western Wing. Also, I later made contact with my State Department friend. The rumor of the State Department attack was just that – a rumor. Turned out it never happened. Meanwhile, the State Department rescheduled that abruptly postponed swearing-in ceremony.
A kinder, gentler capital region — at least for a moment
But something more important happened in days following 9-11 as well. In addition to anger and outrage at our unnamed enemies and vows to avenge the Pentagon casualties, something else, far more positive, spread almost immediately throughout the capital region. A sense of kindness, of neighborliness and compassion firmly settled on this often politically fractious area both inside and outside the Beltway. People were suddenly solicitous, decent, and sensitive to the losses and near losses that soon visited many neighborhoods across the region. And amazingly, politics seemed, at least for the moment to be completely irrelevant.
At the same time, a collective, growing, almost steely resolve began to build, lining up behind yet another Republican president voted into office narrowly in a controversial election the press didn’t like. An election whose repercussions many still refused to accept. Bush said and did the right things as the national tragedy unfolded, at least at the outset. As a result, he had the nation’s backing — and the backing of Congress — for his vow to rapidly deploy our military to Afghanistan to hunt down those behind 9/11’s surprisingly novel yet extraordinarily horrifying terrorist attack.
The nation was behaving as one people speaking as one voice. At least for one precious wrinkle in time. It lasted at least until the still-controversial White House decision to go after Iraq next. That decision, initially supported by Congress, eventually reignited the temporarily dormant and increasingly vicious partisan bickering that has never let up in Washington, D.C. to this very day. It turns out reasonable politics was yet another of the many 9-11 Pentagon casualties.
A bipartisan capital city no more
It seems almost quaint, now, to remember those sad yet inspiring post 9/11 days, weeks and months: the last time the good old USA still felt like the good old USA. Blame who you want, but between a terminally corrupt and elitist Washington DC Establishment and its enablers in what has now clearly become America’s first Marxist political party, the capital area today has moved from that post-9/11 unity and comity toward an absolutely hate-filled and utterly illogical political split that’s in many ways as bad as it was just prior to this nation’s first Civil War.
Today, you can’t simply disagree with those on the other side of the aisle. You have to be prepared to take a swing at them. What happened to the real America? The one we briefly experienced post-9/11 but then lost so quickly? The one that helped elect America’s first black president, at least in part because the nation wished to move beyond the most divisive issue in its relatively short existence? Sadly, we know how that turned out.
What has happened to America since 9-11?
What the hell happened to our great and beautiful country in the years that followed 9-11? Who whisked it away seemingly in the twinkling of an eye? Why is the Constitution whatever the radicals say it is? Why do single, rogue judges get to countermand America’s Commander-in-Chief? What replaced checks and balances?
And most importantly, who replaced our positive, dynamic, ever-evolving vision of America with a new, sordid and factually untruthful image? One that portrayed America as an evil, racist country founded primarily to destroy everyone and everything that stood in its rapacious path? An astonishingly untruthful vision leftist educators now teach to our kids as the historical truth in America’s public schools.
Today, the 18th anniversary of that terrible September day in 2001, we can see a wonderful incoming opportunity to answer at least some of these questions. We can answer them at the ballot box next November. We sincerely hope that a majority of voters still remember the caring and compassionate America. The one we experienced all too briefly just 18 short years ago. Then search for and elect candidates next fall to bring that one, true vision of America the Beautiful, the beacon of freedom and hope, back home again where it belongs.
We’re staring at the grim alternative to that vision right now in Washington, D.C. And that alternative looks as bad, or worse, than that horrific, fiery morning of September 9, 2001.
(Below: A Reuters video clip of President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump laying a memorial wreath at a Pentagon ceremony Wednesday. The ceremony was in remembrance the Pentagon casualties of the tragic 9-11-2001 terrorist attack on that building.
— Headline image, top: Screen capture. President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, via the Reuters clip presented above.