At 8:19 A.M. On September 11, 2001, Bonnie LaJeunesse McGreer was settling into work at the Pentagon Federal Credit Union, on the east side of the Pentagon. At the same time, Betty Ong, a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, called the Airlines office from an air-phone:
“The cockpit is not answering,” Ong said, continuing with: “somebody’s stabbed in business class, and I think there’s Mace. We can’t breathe. I don’t know, and I think we’re getting hijacked”. She then tells American Airlines of the stabbings of two flight attendants.
A few minutes later, at 8:20 A.M., American Airlines Flight 77, with 58 passengers and six crew members, departed from Washington Dulles International Airport for Los Angeles. Five hijackers were aboard. Ultimately, Flight 77 would crash into the Westside of the Pentagon. Separating the five sides of the Pentagon is a five-acre central plaza known as “ground zero.” (The nickname originated during the Cold War and based on the presumption that the Soviet Union would target one or more nuclear missiles at this central location in the outbreak of a nuclear war). It was this separation that would spare the life of my wife and hundreds more.
Twenty-six minutes later, at 8:46 A.M., Flight 11, carrying Ms. Ong and 96 others along with the hijackers, crashed into the north face of the North Tower (1WTC) of the World Trade Center between floors 93 and 99.
Six minutes later, a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175 called his father and told him:
“I think they’ve taken over the cockpit. An attendant has been stabbed. And someone else up front may have been killed. The plane is making strange moves.” It was 8:52 A.M.
Just before 9 A.M., my colleague, Paul C., stood in the doorway of my office.
“A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said.
As Paul and I discussed airplane crashes in New York, Bonnie called, our morning ritual.
“A plane has crashed into the Trade Center,” I told her.
I was only moderately concerned about the crash. There was nothing new about airplane crashes in the New York area. Planes have crashed into the Empire State Building, the Hudson River, a Riker’s island monument, a Brooklyn apartment, onto Rockaway Blvd, into Cove Neck, Long Island, a home in Shinnecock, Long Island, the East River, and helicopters have crashed into the Hudson Bay and onto 60th street.
As we were discussing the various plane crashes, Mike K., another colleague, entered the office.
“A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center,” he announced.
“We know,” I said.
“No, a second plane,” he answered.
Bonnie hung up the phone. She entered the kitchen to watch CNN. Just then, flight 175 crashed into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC) of the World Trade Center. It was 9:02:59 A.M.
At about the same time, Flight 77 had altered its course and headed directly towards the Pentagon.
I picked up the phone to call my wife to see if she knew anything about the second plane crashing into the Trade Center. No answer. I called again. No answer. I was now really concerned.
“I’m going to the Command Center,” I told Paul and Mike.
When I entered the Command Center, CNN was broadcasting the crashes of Flight 11 and Flight 175 into the towers.
Between 9:39 and 9:40, all the television stations in the Command Center: CNN, Fox News Channel, NBC, and MSNBC came alive with breaking news bulletins reporting fires and explosions at the Pentagon. At 9:53: CNN confirmed that a plane (later identified as Flight 77) had crashed into the western side of the Pentagon and started a violent fire. All 64 people on board were killed, as were 125 Pentagon personnel.
To me, there was nothing unusual about the idea that terrorists might use a fully fueled airliner as a target against high valued targets. Before moving to the U.S. Geological Survey, I had worked in the Department of Defense on a variety of intelligence and counterintelligence activities. The idea of an airplane as a weapon was a common concern. But I never imagined that such an event would involve my wife, a member of my family, or individuals close to us.
I had just returned to the Survey from a year-long tour establishing the Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). As the CIO, I was the highest-ranking technology executive responsible for the Agency’s global information technology and computer systems that support DTRA in its mission of reducing the global threat from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
During that tour, the bombing of the USS Cole occurred while being refueled in the port of Aden. Seventeen American sailors died, and 39 were injured. No one was surprised when Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the attack.
I had been in the Pentagon numerous times while working in Defense, and in addition to my wife, I had friends and former colleagues who worked in that building. The Pentagon is a complex building of five sides, several floors, and a tangle of basement offices. But as hard as I tried to picture the location of my wife’s office and those of friends and colleagues, I could not get the layout straight in my mind.
As I stood in the Command Center, I heard someone in the background saying:” No, No, No.” Then I realized that someone was me. I went back to my office to try again to call my wife. No answer on the landline. No answer on the cell phone. I told Paul that I was going home, but before I was able to leave, both my daughter and son called asking about their mother. They were both upset, and I could not give them a satisfactory answer. I asked each to come to our townhouse.
It was only a few miles from my Reston office to our townhouse in Centreville, but, no matter the time of day or night, traffic is always heavy. The car radio was alive with news of the crashes and breaking news that another airliner, United Airlines Flight 93, had also been hijacked and crashed into a field 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
My son arrived at the townhouse shortly after me. My daughter, who worked in a law office, a few blocks from the White House, was essentially trapped in the city because of traffic jams and emergency procedures. It was now impossible to make phone calls. All lines, including cell phones, were busy.
It was about 2:30 P.M. When the phone finally rang. It was my wife. A wave of relief caused me to shutter as I heard her voice.
She had been watching the planes crash into the Trade Center when she heard or felt something.
The Pentagon is the size of a small city with approximately 23,000 military and civilian employees and about 3,000 non-defense support personnel. The Pentagon is a busy and noisy place. But on that day, “it suddenly became silent,” Bonnie said. Then screams, panic, and more screams.
She was out of the building and engulfed into an unorganized, chaotic crowd. Then another explosion. Was it a bomb?
As she was leaving the Pentagon, employees were told to take off their badges to avoid being targeted if it were a terrorist attack. Bonnie and her colleagues walked to the Ritz hotel in Pentagon City. The phone lines were all busy, and she could not call out.
“We went directly to the bar,” she said.
Eventually, she was able to get through to me on a payphone. Then she was picked up by the Credit Union and taken to an office in Alexandria where employees were asked to speak with clinical personnel and later taken home. It was about 6:30 P.M. when she arrived home.
I have never been so happy to see someone in my entire life. A while later, my daughter called. She finally made it home safe. More relief.
Nineteen Islamic militants, with box cutters, took the lives of 2,877 individuals from 70 countries on September 11, 2001. In addition to those totals are an untold number of first responders who died. Add to those many individuals who continue to medical and emotionally suffer from performing their duty on 9-11.
The George W. Bush-Dick Cheney administration used the event to attempt to secure U.S. petroleum supplies in Iraq for the U.S. oil industry under cover of declaring a ‘war on terror.
As a result, American troops are now fighting in 14 nations as part of an endless crusade against “extremists” with anti-Muslim feelings at an all-time high.
Americans today face an even worse threat from the COVID-19 virus. As of today (September 12, 2020), there are 6,445,288 confirmed cases and 193,016 deaths attributed to that virus. Donald Trump has yet to address that threat with a coherent “biological “warfare” strategy.
1. “Complete 911 Time-line”, minute-by-minute. Provided by the Center for Cooperative Research.
2. “Final Report of the Collapse of the World Trade Center Towers,” published by the U.S. Commerce Department of National Institute of Standards and Technology in September 2005, pp. 83-84
3. “The 9-11 Commission Report”. U.S. Government Printing Office. July 22, 2004. P.45. Retrieved 2010-08-15.
4. See death toll and costs at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Iraq_War