September 12, 2013 --
Sept. 11, 2001, started as just another ordinary day for most people. By 9 a.m., the United States was under attack by terrorists and the nation was forever changed, according to Col. Yori Escalante, chief of staff, Marine Corps Logistics Command.
Wednesday, a ceremony was held on base to remember that day and honor the people lost, the heroes who served and Americans who pulled together.
Two fire trucks, two ambulances and two police cars lined the street in the front of Coffman Hall, during the observance. The American flag swayed in the air at half- staff. Marines, firemen, policemen and civilians stood silently as taps played.
Escalante, was in the Pentagon on that day in 2001. He served as aide-de-camp for Lt. Gen. Robert Magnus, who at the time served as the deputy commandant, Programs and Resources, Headquarters Marine Corps. Escalante shared some of his experience during the ceremony.
“Shortly after realizing what had taken place, I phoned my wife and was able to get through,” Escalante said. “The building has been hit, but I am OK and I am getting out. How many of those calls were made from the World Trade Center with those same words, but those folks didn’t get out?”
As he exited the building, Escalante remembered seeing smoke on the walls of the Pentagon. After reaching the streets, he was able to see the building now had a gaping hole in one side and was on fire. He described military personnel with charred uniforms. The Pentagon courtyard “resembled a triage area of a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) hospital.”
Despite the tremendous loss of life, Escalante expressed sincere gratitude and respect for those responding and assisting fellow Americans on that day.
“It doesn’t matter how a person serves or what they do, if they do something to ensure people are free and safe, they are a hero,” he said. “It does not matter what uniform they wear.
“(Terrorists) continue to try to attack us, but have been unsuccessful,” Escalante added. “They will remain unsuccessful because we remain diligent in how we go about our daily lives.”
According to Donna Johnston, human resources specialist, Staffing and Classification Advisory Division, Civilian Human Resources Office - Southeast, who was also working at the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2001, it was just another day at work.
All of a sudden, “I remember the ground shaking beneath my desk. I didn’t hear anything; I just felt the intense rumbling beneath my feet,” she said. I locked eyes with a nearby co-worker and I knew we were thinking the same thing, although we did not utter a word, ‘Whatever was happening in New York is now happening here.’”
In New York, hijackers had flown American Airlines flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. At 9:03 a.m., terrorists flew United Airlines flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
It was now 9:37 a.m. and Johnston was correct. Hijackers flew American Airlines flight 175 into the Pentagon, exactly 60 years after the building’s groundbreaking.
Johnston said she ran to an office window and looked outside. Looking to her right, she saw clear, blue skies.
As she turned and looked to the
left of her fifth floor office window, she witnessed firsthand some of the horrific images being seen around the world.
A cloud of black smoke plumed into the sky accompanied by an inferno of flames, and people streamed into the streets.
As she made her way outside the building, Johnston revealed she had two objectives. She wanted to get home and she wanted to speak to her loved ones. Both proved to be difficult tasks to achieve.
Her normal 7-minute commute home took three hours. Because cell phone lines were jammed, she was unable to contact her family until she got home to her landline.
“Of course, my first call was to my mom,” Johnston said, as she took a deep breath and tears welled in her eyes, then trickled down her cheeks.
Slowly dabbing the tears, Johnston continued, “After two hours and she couldn’t contact me, she assumed the worst. I just wanted her to know I was OK.”
Danesha Aikens, administrative specialist, Marine and Family programs, MCLB Albany, wanted to know if her husband and her 9-year-old son were OK.
After seeing the devastation on television, attempts to reach her spouse, who was on base in Quantico, Va., were unsuccessful. Her son was attending school on base as well.
When Aiken’s husband finally reached her, he told her the school was on lock down, therefore he was unable to get to their son, but he was OK.
More than two hours elapsed before military police came and delivered Aiken and other military spouses to the base to reunite with their families.
“For the military families who lived in that moment, that moment forever lives with them,” Aikens said. “It’s not something that just happened. It’s something we lived, something we survived. People may celebrate the anniversary, but for us, it’s different.”
“We don’t celebrate that day,” Aikens added. “We honor the survivors, servicemen and women who performed and sacrificed on that day.
“Everyone should understand freedom comes at a great price that is paid daily by those serving in the military,” Aikens said. “We have not had another September 11 because of what our service members’ have done and are doing every day for this country.”