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The 9/11 attack on the Pentagon

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  • The 9/11 attack on the Pentagon

    As most of us know, Saturday, 9/11/21 is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many of us remember exactly where we were when we first heard of the 9/11 attacks—just like an earlier generation remembered where they were on the afternoon of December 7, 1941 -- “a day that will live in infamy”. The 9/11 image that comes to mind for most people, of course, is the destruction of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan –2,753 innocent victims, including 414 fire fighters and law enforcement officers.

    For those of us who have a connection to the US military, the attack that was closer to home was the one on the Pentagon – 125 people in the Pentagon and 59 on American Airlines flight 77 died. No first responders died. And thanks to the 40 brave people on United Airlines flight 93, those were the only casualties in the DC area. I worked for the Navy in various capacities for many years, and have had several assignments in the Pentagon – but I wasn’t there that day. For those who are not familiar with the DC area, the Pentagon is a 5-sided (duh!) office building that contains about 6.5 million square feet of office space. For many years, it was the largest office building in the world. It is 5 stories high (plus a couple of basement levels) and is composed of 5 separate, concentric pentagon-shaped rings connected by 10 radial corridors. The total length of all the corridors is 17.5 miles. The central open plaza (called “Ground Zero”) is 5 acres in size and includes an open-air restaurant at the center.

    Because all available steel in 1941 was being used to build ships and tanks, the use of steel in its construction was very limited. As a result, the Pentagon is made entirely of reinforced concrete, with an Indiana limestone façade on the outside of the outer ring. Only the outside of the outer, “E” ring looks out on anything other than the adjacent ring. The architecture, construction materials, and views are entirely different from those in the World Trade Center. While the Pentagon was made entirely of concrete with small, 1940s-era wooden double-hung windows, the WTC buildings were made of steel and aluminum with massive amounts of glass. The Pentagon occupies almost 29 acres (plus another 5 acres for the central plaza), while each of the two major WTC buildings only covered about 44,000 square feet of space.

    The Pentagon sits on the site of a former airfield in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington. This was open, unused land in 1941, but the Pentagon and its huge parking lots are now surrounded by major highways. The building has its own Metro (subway) stop and bus terminal. The US Postal Service has assigned six DC Zip Codes to it, even though it is physically located in Virginia.

    Ground was broken for the Pentagon on the same day its construction contract was signed -- 11 September 1941 – exactly 60 years before the 9/11 attacks. The Army Corps of Engineers knew how to build things quickly in those days – it was completed in just over a year, and was formally dedicated on January 15. 1943. Total cost was $83 million. It serves as headquarters for the Department of Defense and the Army, Navy, Air Force, and (since 2011) Marine Corps. About 26,000 military and civilian personnel work there every day.

    American Airlines flight 77, a Boeing 757 bound for Los Angeles, crashed into the Pentagon’s west side at 9:37 am on 9/11/01. As horrible as the attack was, we were very lucky -- this was the strongest part of the building. In response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings, the outer walls of the Pentagon were being strengthened with steel beams and blast-proof glass. The section hit by the plane had already been completed, and these improvements greatly delayed the collapse of that section of the building, allowed many people to escape, and greatly reduced casualties. The plane only penetrated four of the five concentric rings on that side, and the other four sides of the building were unaffected. The death toll was also reduced by the fact that only 800 of the 4,500 people who would normally be in that section of the building had moved back in.

    I’m no story teller like John Clary, but the events of that day are seared into my memory for obvious reasons. 9/11/01 was a Tuesday, so I was at work, in an office building in Arlington – a couple of miles west of the Pentagon. Like most people in the US, I heard about the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon shortly after they occurred. My office window faced east, toward both Washington and the Pentagon. The smoke from the Pentagon attack could be seen rising from the lower-elevation Potomac flatlands, but DC looked normal. As it turned out, the highjackers on United Airlines 93 were aiming for either the Capitol or the White House, but were foiled by the 40 brave passengers aboard that plane. It crashed near Shanksville, PA.

    US airspace was closed almost immediately, and fearing additional attacks, nearly all employees from both the Federal government and commercial firms in the DC area were sent home. (While politicians love to badmouth Washington, only a very small minority of its population is involved in any way in the political process. Most of its 700K residents are plumbers, bar tenders, bus drivers, etc – just like any other city of similar size.) And all of us were worried (with good reason) about another attack. Of course, traffic jams immediately clogged every available road in the DC area, especially those near the Pentagon heading south or west into Virginia. Washington’s all-news radio station went into full crisis mode, with rumors of other highjackings and bombings at various federal facilities. As it turned out, nearly all of these stories were untrue, but these reports created an atmosphere of impending doom in the city – what would be the next target? Somehow, one wasn’t really reassured by the Air Force F-16 fighters that kept streaking back and forth across the city. The cell phone network immediately became overloaded and crashed, which added to the sense of crisis – no one could get in touch with their loved ones, most of whom were stuck in traffic just like me. Those not stuck in cars or on the Metro subway re-discovered the beauties of a land-line phone.

    My route between work and home normally took me across the Potomac and close by the downtown section of DC – but this route was pretty much impossible that day. I ended up using a circuitous route and got home about four hours after leaving work. My then-girlfriend (now wife) was similarly challenged heading south to her home in Virginia. The FAA grounded all commercial flights at 9:45 ET, and the skies were empty of airplanes nationwide by noon.

    The damage to the Pentagon was repaired over the next eleven months, and the renovation of the rest of the building was finally completed in 2011. The building no longer has any visitor parking lots – a DOD decal and personnel badge are required to park anywhere on the property. A very moving memorial has been built on the west side of the building. It consists of a park on two acres of land, containing 184 benches, one dedicated to each victim. The benches are aligned along the line of Flight 77 according to the victim’s ages, from 3 to 71.
    Skip Lackie

  • #2
    Thank you Skip.


    • #3
      Thank you Skip! It's crazy to think this was 20 years ago. I was a freshman in college and remember this day like it was yesterday. A friend called my dorm room and I picked up the phone and he told me what had happened and I immediately went back to sleep. He called back and my roommate picked up that time. We were in a state of shock/disbelief and not understanding what was happening. The friend came and pounded on our door to get us up and to turn on the news. Needless to say, we didn't go to class that morning and my college canceled class the rest of the day and the next couple of days. We lived in Tampa and like you mentioned, the phones were jammed up all over the place. We had a large number of students from NYC and Boston and most could not get ahold of their families. Since we were staying at a hotel, the phones between the rooms worked but outgoing calls were almost impossible. The few with a cell phone also had almost no luck. Calls to my family in Indiana were also impossible for hours.

      Looking back at it... I read a few days ago that most of today's kids really don't understand what happened on 9/11 and the only thing they really understand is that "something bad happened." I honestly can't believe its been 20 years....


      • #4
        I remember the day quite well, but your post adds some very interesting detail, and refreshed my memory about the event. Thanks from me as well.


        • #5
          "The FAA grounded all commercial flights at 9:45 ET, and the skies were empty of airplanes nationwide by noon."

          The Michael Moore movie showed one commercial flight that went around the country picking up the Saudi National bigwigs and getting them out of the way of reprisals.

          I wonder what the anniversary will bring. Only one day until we find out.
          Last edited by RadioRoy; 09-10-2021, 09:00 AM.
          RadioRoy, specializing in AM/FM conversions with auxiliary inputs for iPod/satellite/CD player. In the old car radio business since 1985.

          17A-S2 - 50 Commander convertible
          10G-C1 - 51 Champion starlight coupe
          10G-Q4 - 51 Champion business coupe
          4H-K5 - 53 Commander starliner hardtop
          5H-D5 - 54 Commander Conestoga wagon
          56B-D4 - 56 Commander station wagon
          60V-L6 - 60 Lark convertible


          • #6
            Thank you, Skip, for writing this nice account. There are items that I was not aware of. I watched the whole thing on TV in my living room, from the first plane hitting the first tower. Everyone thought that it was an aircraft accident until the second plane flew into the second tower.
            Gary L.
            Wappinger, NY

            SDC member since 1968
            Studebaker enthusiast much longer


            • #7
              'Nice account, Skip; thanks for the interesting post.

              An interesting bit of trivia was aired here in central Indiana yesterday: The report said Indianapolis International Airport landed more diverted flights than any airport in the country that morning.

              I found that hard to believe, but I suppose it is because it wasn't the final destination of so many of those flights. Larger international airports might have handled more flights being brought in, but those flights may have been intended for those airports anyway.

              Indianapolis, on the other hand, landed many carriers whose normal routes did not include Indianapolis, so they had more diverted planes to land. BP
              We've got to quit saying, "How stupid can you be?" Too many people are taking it as a challenge.

              Ayn Rand:
              "You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality."

              G. K. Chesterton: This triangle of truisms, of father, mother, and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.


              • #8
                Originally posted by RadioRoy View Post
                "The FAA grounded all commercial flights at 9:45 ET, and the skies were empty of airplanes nationwide by noon."

                The Michael Moore movie showed one commercial flight that went around the country picking up the Saudi National bigwigs and getting them out of the way of reprisals.

                Cannot either confirm nor deny. I found this two-minute video of the airspace shutdown on 9/11. It shows that a few aircraft were still airborne after noon that day. They may have been military.

                Skip Lackie


                • #9
                  Skip, thanks for your perspective. You have insights many of us can only imagine. Especially for a country hillbilly like me, the hectic pace of the DC environment is unnerving on the most normal of days. Back when this event unfolded, I was working as an industrial supply salesman covering a rather large territory of accounts in North and South Carolina. That morning, as I was preparing to head out from my home office, I had the TV on and the initial report was of a “small” plane had accidentally crashed into one of the towers in NY. I was struck by the initial somewhat casual response and reporting by reporters as I began flipping through channels for more information. Little by little, the reports began to change from a small plane to perhaps a private jet and then the actual video of the second aircraft! From that moment, across all networks, things changed in the reporting.

                  For me, having lived through rocket attacks that hit jet fuel laden aircraft while I was in Vietnam, I knew immediately the implications of a huge amount of jet fuel being dumped and ignited into those buildings! I have swept millions of dollars worth of aircraft and equipment into dustpans as a result of an intense JP4 fueled fire. Needless to say, my departure from home was a bit delayed that morning. However, I did manage to pull myself away from the TV and head to one of my largest manufacturer accounts near Asheville NC. It was a surreal day. I don’t think many of us truly grasped the unfolding events. I was glued to my radio during this drive. At the plant, I dealt with executives, engineers, and supervisors. The unfolding events were the main topic of all conversations. I’m not sure what was actually accomplished that day in the way of work but as I made my way back home, the report of the first tower collapse came over the radio. Sometime, during the day, the sequence is a bit foggy, the Pentagon attack was reported and for a time, reporting of a missing plane until the Pennsylvania crash was finally revealed. I think it took quite awhile for reporting to grasp the reality of that airplane.

                  The next day, two of my horseback riding friends kept our commitment to meet and ride a mountain trail in the NC mountains. Again, a very surreal experience as we were the only ones at the parking area with our horse trailers. On the mountain peak, where we stopped for lunch, there were no sounds of aircraft or con trails.

                  so…as we solemnly and respectfully remember after two decades, let’s resolve to avoid what seems like the popular vernacular of the moment. This goofy concept of “reimagine!” Reality is what “IS.” Reality is that our Studebaker is a relic even when restored to its original condition. Unless extensively modified, it will never be as trouble free as today’s new cars. For me, the constant tinkering, adjusting, and maintaining my old vehicles is reality. You can imagine, (make up) tales and repeat urban legends about such things as “Nash Hawks” until you believe it is real… but you can’t reimagine it into reality. We must be aware that there are people on this planet that want to kill you just because of where you live or what you believe. Try as we might, we can’t imagine they are really nice if we get to know them. And we can never imagine that capitulation is victory!

                  Today, reality is that I have an upcoming Studebaker meet to prepare for, including bunches of grease fittings, oil change, adjusting points, changing spark plugs, and numerous other tinkering issues. For us on this forum, I hope we can at least unite in our common interests and enjoy the experience even on such a solemn day.
                  John Clary
                  Greer, SC

                  SDC member since 1975


                  • #10
                    I never forget that morning. We were visiting our son's home in Detroit when the planes hit, and watched as the first and second planes slammed into the Towers.
                    My infant granddaughter was in need a box of diapers so I was sent off to the local Pharmacy in that old neighborhood. There was a armed Security Officer posted at the door, and the Prescription and checkout counters were enclosed in inch thick bulletproof glass.
                    As more information was broadcast, I struck by the incongruency of these small neighborhood businesses providing thousands of dollars in the provision of full time security measures, while our commercial aircraft employed little more than unarmed stewardesses.
                    Granddaughter is now in her third year at University of Detroit and on course to a Medical Degree.


                    • #11
                      One minor detail that probably occurred to very few of us was noted in the local Washington-area press, and that was the altitude of the planes that hit the WTC buildings and the Pentagon. We've all seen the horrible pictures of the plane hitting the second WTC building at about the 80th floor. But the Pentagon was/is only five stories high, so that plane had to drop down to an altitude of about 25 feet. If you've ever been next to a Boeing 757, they're almost that high, even without the landing gear extended. As a result, the plane that hit the Pentagon came in so low that it clipped a couple of lamp posts as it crossed a local highway, (This helped investigators later ID its exact track) . One of them punched through the windshield of a DC Plymouth taxi on that highway, bringing the driver to a rapid stop. He survived and only recently died.
                      Skip Lackie


                      • #12
                        Thank you Skip, for your in depth post. And John, for your as always, wonderful insight.
                        I can add that at the time all we got in Canada was watered down CNN news, so at best our information was poor.
                        One thing that has stuck with me all these years later, is that (please correct me if I am wrong) there were never seats, landing gear etc. found at the Pentagon site. Can you confirm this as I find this very strange?
                        Also most of the American bound flights were re-routed and landed in several cities and airports in Canada. A bunch of Canadians took the wayward passengers into their homes for a duration of time I am unsure of.
                        I have read that many long lasting friendships came of this chance meeting.
                        20 Years later, at least we can still get back to our Studebakers.


                        • #13
                          I would describe that story about no seats or landing gear as bogus. I have no personal knowledge one way or the other, but if such were true, then it would blow up the whole explanation for the attack. Such conspiracy theories require that we: (1) accept the fact that dozens (perhaps hundreds) of people in both the govt and the airlines conspired to actually execute the attacks, (2) that tens of thousands of people (relatives of those killed) were somehow bought off to keep quiet, and (3) that none of them have squealed. And to what end? Remember, quite a few of the innocent passengers on those four aircraft were able to call friends and family to tell them what was happening before the planes crashed. The passengers on UAL 93 found out they were being highjacked when family members called THEM and told them about the WTC attacks. They knew they were in trouble when their plane turned around. The people on those planes and ~3000 on the ground are definitely dead.

                          The commission that investigated the attacks produced a massive report, which is available on line. The Wikipedia item describing the report notes some serious criticism, but none relate to things like missing landing gear.

                          As you may already know, the largest landing spot for rerouted aircraft was Gander, Nfld. Gander had the advantage of having very long runways, left over from the days when trans-Atlantic flights only had enough range to fly from Gander to Shannon, Ireland. The 10,000 citizens of Gander truly opened their homes to 7000 (mostly) Americans for a week or more. The hit musical "Come From Away" is based on that episode, and has become a smash hit. And many Americans are returning to Newfoundland for vacation and the renewal of those friendships.
                          Last edited by Skip Lackie; 09-12-2021, 01:27 PM. Reason: typo
                          Skip Lackie


                          • #14
                            There were a total of about 232 international flights, carrying about 33,000 passengers and crew, diverted to Canadian airports on 9/11. The airports and number of planes they received is: Whitehorse YT 3; Yellowknife NT 1; Vancouver BC 34 (about 8,500 passengers); Edmonton AB 6; Calgary AB 13; Winnipeg MB 15; Toronto ON (Pearson) 14; Hamilton ON 4; Montreal QC (Dorval) 7; Montreal QC (Mirabel) 10; Moncton NB 10; Halifax NS 40 (about 7,300 passengers); Goose Bay NL 7; Stephenville NL 8; Deer Lake NL 1; Gander NL 38 (about 6,700 passengers); St. John's NL 21. Gander is especially notable because the number of passengers and crew equaled two-thirds the population of the town.
                            Bill Jarvis


                            • #15
                              Skip and Bill,
                              Thank you both for the clarification. It is still one of the most somber days in history.