By Julia LeDoux, Pentagram Staff WriterSeptember 14, 2017
Solemn silence and the sound of a bell ringing three times could be heard Monday as Military District of Washington staff gathered around the flag pole at Fort McNair in observance of the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We had heard a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. The first thing that came into our minds was some idiot had flown into the building," said Sean Logan, who was an air traffic controller on duty at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
Within just a few minutes of his colleague leaving the tower to use the restroom, Logan said he looked up and saw Flight 77 approach the Pentagon, on a course to crash into the heart of America's military.
"It was probably half a football field length away from the tower, coming directly at us," he said. "I essentially froze in place. I couldn't ever recall seeing something that big being that close to me, moving at that fast of a rate."
Logan said he watched the plane turn the Pentagon into a blazing fireball.
"I will never forget the screeching sound the plane made as it went into the building," he said. "Once the plane hit the building, I was trying to get out of the building."
About this time, his co-worker returned and the pair made their way outside to safety.
"We had two (Fort Myer) firefighters outside wiping down the truck because President Bush was supposed to be coming back in that day and when they saw the plane coming towards the building, they ducked under the truck and the fire truck actually caught on fire."
Because of the truck's proximity to the (helipad air traffic control) tower, it absorbed much of the blast.
"I'll never forget 9/11 and the events that led to 9/11," he said. "But, I always say I'll never forget Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 and the days and weeks following that. Just seeing the camaraderie of the Military District of Washington. The Military District of Washington really stepped up to put the pieces back together."
Fort Myer Firefighter Andretti Colon responded to the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center as a New York City firefighter.
"Every year, its like reliving the nightmare over," he said. "Matter of fact today, I came in feeling depressed."
Colon said after the collapse of the structures, he remained at Ground Zero where he served as a liaison to family members as they waited for their loved ones bodies to be recovered.
"I pretty much stayed four months at Ground Zero until I was able to recover my family members (the firefighters) who perished. After that, I called it quits because I brought them home," he said.
Current MDW Deputy Commander Egon Hawrylak, who was serving as G-3 for the MDW on the morning of Sept. 11, was briefing the then MDW commander on an upcoming event as events unfolded in New York City.
As he left the briefing, he looked west towards the Pentagon and Ronald Reagan National Airport.
"There was a black, billowing smoke on the other side of the Potomac," he said. "I knew that wasn't good. I said a couple of words that I won't repeat here this morning and went back in the building."
Incident commander during Sept. 11 Chief Jim Schwartz of the Arlington Fire Department said what stands out to him about that morning is the heroism exhibited by firefighters and the active duty service members and civilians who were inside the Pentagon.
"That heroism is exhibited by my colleagues from the Fort Myer Fire Department, who were manning the crash fire rescue vehicle at the helipad who were really, really on the front lines that morning," he said.
Schwartz arrived at the Pentagon 10 minutes after the plane struck.
"Today is a day for us to remember 184 people who passed as a result of that incident," he said. "Their families don't just remember once a year. They remember every single day. They remember every empty chair at the holidays. They remember every missed birthday. They remember every family event that the person they love and lost that day is absent."
Military District of Washington and Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region Commanding Gen. Maj. Gen. Michael Howard said it is important to remember the Sept. 11 attacks for a number of reasons.
"Al Qaeda thought when they struck the United States, who they thought was weak, we would get weaker and fall part and collapse as a nation," he said. "But what happened is we got stronger. I haven't seen anything like that in my lifetime or anything like that since."
Howard said the annual observance serves as a reminder of why the nation is fighting.
"A group of people who are so evil, who are so butcherous that they would kill 3,000 people, not combatants, just regular dudes for no reason other than they have a different ideology, have got to be stopped," he said.
Pentagram Staff Writer Julia LeDoux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.