Chaplain Recalls Fear, Confusion, Faith During 9/11 Attack
September 10, 2008
Fort Lee, Va. (Sept. 10, 2008) -- For Chaplain (Col.) James E. Walker, Fort Lee installation chaplain, Sept. 11, 2001, began like any other day.
As the personnel actions officer for the Office of the Army's Chief of Chaplains, he was stationed at the Pentagon, Washington D.C. Walker was working from the offices of the Directorate of Personnel and Ecclesiastical Relations Presidential Towers, Crystal City, Arlington, and often commuted between the two locations. His morning began at the Presidential Towers but the day's appointments led him to one of three attack sites and a horrific day in U.S. history.
Prior to heading to the G-1 Office, Walker stopped at the dental clinic on the Pentagon Concourse for a routine cleaning. While he sat in the dentist chair, opposite from the impact site, he felt the force of the crash and heard people shouting, "A plane hit the Pentagon!" Chaos ensued and people ran from the building.
"Everyone rushed out like a stampede," Walker said. "If I had gone straight to PERSCOM, I would have been in one of the offices destroyed by the crash. The key thing is I was fortunate to have scheduled a dental appointment."
Immediately following the attack Walker found himself praying with and embracing people. Later that day, he acted as a first responder once it was declared safe enough for those activities.
"I distinctly remember one Army officer who suffered smoke inhalation. I saw her stumbling from the building. I picked her up and carried her to the triage area where she was treated," he said.
In the days following the attacks, the Chief of the Chaplains set up a 24-hour chaplain rotation to provide care for the community. While on his shift leading a team monitoring the phones, Walker succumbed to fatigue.
"I didn't realize how dehydrated I was. I fell out because I was giving and giving and giving," Walker said. "I was running on adrenaline and I didn't realize how drained I had become. I forgot to take care of myself while taking care of everyone else."
Walker received treatment for dehydration and exhaustion. After a few days rest he returned to his mission serving the community.
"For me, thinking back today, I never try to make myself a hero when I talk about this," said Walker. "I was one of the many fortunate ones to make it out alive. I was answering my call to duty. I believe the events that unfolded represent fear, confusion, and faith. First we experienced fear and confusion about what was happening around us and the faith that sustained us in the hours and days following the attacks. As you know we can never forget those who sacrificed their lives and those Families still grieving - especially now the anniversary is here."