Remembrance: Chaplain recalls 9/11 attack on Pentagon
September 9, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Pentagon Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Henry Haynes had just come out of a meeting and was on his way back to his office when he heard the news: A plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York.
At first, he did not pay close attention to the events, said Haynes, who is now a colonel and the Fort Jackson installation chaplain. But when a second plane struck the other WTC tower, people around the building started to realize the magnitude of what was happening, Haynes said.
"One man said, 'I bet we're going to be next,'" he remembered. "I guess it was about a few minutes after that when all the sirens started going off in the building - because we were next."
On Sept. 11, 2001, at 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 struck the west wall of the Pentagon, killing 64 people aboard the plane and 125 people in the building.
"When the alarms went off, everybody ran out of the building, and smoke was pouring out of the western side of the building," Haynes said. "There was total chaos and confusion, because nobody really knew what was going on."
Haynes and his fellow chaplains did not have time to let what happened sink in. They set up an operations center outside the building to attend to victims, rescue workers and others in need.
"It was just a long, long day of trying to minister to and ... take care of people who were hurting," Haynes said.
In the days that followed, Haynes was busy ministering to survivors and conducting prayer services. Haynes also traveled across the country to attend memorial services for the victims -- many of whom he had known personally.
"There was one fellow -- we parked side by side every morning when we drove in to the Pentagon. And the reason I remember him so well was because he always read his Bible," Haynes said. "I would get in at about 6 a.m. each morning ... and he would be sitting there reading his Bible every morning. It really just sort of impressed me. The fact that he was killed -- it was just really emotional, because I knew he was a very good person and very spiritual. But it was good to be able -- when the parents asked me, 'Did you know my son'' -- to say, 'Yes, I knew your son. We frequently spoke.' I told them that he read his Bible every morning and they liked that."
About six months after the attack, Haynes was organizing the Pentagon's National Prayer Breakfast and found himself in a tight spot when his keynote speaker canceled on short notice.
"And a voice, like God, said, 'Ask Brian,'" Haynes said.
Brian Birdwell, now a retired lieutenant colonel, had just been released from the hospital two days earlier. He had been wounded in the attack, suffering severe burns, which covered more than 60 percent of his body and required more than 30 operations. To Haynes' surprise, Birdwell agreed to speak at the event.
"And then he (Birdwell) asked, 'Should I wear my uniform'' I asked, 'Brian, can you get into your uniform'' He asked, 'Do you want me in dress blues'' I said, 'Brian, we'll all be in dress blues. Come in your dress blues,'" Haynes recalled. "And so he came. He still had all the pressure bandages on and the grafts were on his body. He couldn't stand on his own; his wife had to help him. But he came. And when Brian told his story, there was not a dry eye in the place."
Haynes said that, despite all the evil that happened during 9/11, one of the positive things that happened as a result of the attacks was the good it brought out in people.
"It was just an outpouring of love from the American people," he said. "Everybody was just supportive of one another. I've never seen anything quite like that before."
Haynes said he feels privileged having been at the Pentagon during 9/11, being able to serve those in need of spiritual support. He said that although it was a trying and tiring time, his faith helped him meet the demands.
"I believe that God gives you strength. And I believe in the power of prayer. There was a lot of prayer going on," he said. "A lot of people just wanted to hear some positive words. I felt like that was my duty. I had to do that. I had to be strong for my fellow comrades and employees in the building. I believe that God prepares us for stuff, and I believe that God had me there for a reason."