By D. Lee Gabel, Army Attaché
In September 2001, my work place was located in temporary office space in a building about a mile south of the Pentagon. My colleagues and I were scheduled to move into our newly renovated offices in the Pentagon in October 2001.
The morning of September 11th, 2001, I was delayed getting to work. As I usually did, I took a bus from home to the Pentagon bus stop, which was at that time right next to the Pentagon itself. I then boarded the Metro (Subway) to get to my office. After leaving the Metro, while I was walking the final distance to my office, some of the shops and restaurants I walked past had TVs turned on showing the World Trade Center with smoke billowing out ; maybe 15 to 20 minutes after the attacks in New York. By the time I approached the building where my temporary office was, a crowd had gathered in front of the building. The faces in the crowd were facing north looking at a dark grey plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon. It seems that whatever caused the smoke, happened shortly after I had left the Pentagon bus stop while I was riding on the Metro.
After entering my office, I learned from my coworkers what was going on. Shortly thereafter, I tried repeatedly to phone my wife to let her know that I was OK. The phone lines were jammed and it took a few hours for me to finally get in touch with her. Because she knew I frequently attended meetings in the Pentagon, she was extremely worried. Needless to say, she was extremely relieved when I finally got in touch with her.
The next day, as usual, I took the bus to work. As the bus approached the Pentagon bus stop, it traveled along an overpass (Interstate 395) offering a direct view of the crash site at the Pentagon; a view I will never forget. I saw the huge gaping, smoldering, tangled hole in the side of the building. Fire trucks were still aiming high pressure streams of water toward several points in the crash site. It’s hard to describe the feeling in one’s stomach upon seeing such a site with one’s own eyes, but it’s something I won’t forget.
The renovation in that part of the Pentagon turned out to be a huge blessing. Because of the renovation, there were far fewer people in that area of the Pentagon. This probably saved many lives; maybe even mine or that of one of my co-workers, who could have easily been in the wrong place when the crash took place. Our future offices were close enough to the crash site to suffer smoke and water damage. Because of the damage, we didn’t move into our renovated Pentagon offices until October 2002 – a year later than planned.