Inside the Pentagon on 9/11

I recently took a news writing class and our final project was to find a person with a news worthy life event and write about it. I struggled to think about who I would interview and what to write about. That’s when a good friend of mine told me of her uncles who were effected by the events of 9/11. I was immediately interested. Mr. Robert Sichler agreed to do the interview and allow me to write this piece. I’m thankful to him for sharing this life event with me so that I could share it with you.

Multiple tragedies took place Sept. 11, 2001. If you can recall this day, most likely you remember where and what you were doing when each of the four planes crashed. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Robert Sichler, who had recently been transferred to the Pentagon following his deployment with the 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit, can recall his exact memories of what took place when Flight 77 crashed into the western façade of the Pentagon.

During that time, Lieutenant Colonel Sichler worked in an analysis group that supported the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. This group met several times a week for briefings held in their newly renovated office, located on the “E” ring of the Pentagon.

Sichler first heard about the attack from his wife, who was a nurse working that morning. Her patient was watching a Spanish news channel when she saw the first plane hit the north tower. “When my wife called, I told her that she was probably watching a Spanish soap opera and that a plane could not have actually hit the World Trade Center,” said Sichler. “However, when I turned on the TV set and saw the second plane hit I realized that it really did happen.”

By 9:03 a.m. both the north and south towers of the World Trade Center had been hit. Those watching the TV in Sichler’s office also saw what had happened and, “the Secretary of Defense and his staff were moved to the Crisis Action Center,” he states. However, for the rest of the Pentagon there was really no sign of panic and everyone went about their day as usual. It wasn’t until about half an hour later when Flight 77 struck the Pentagon.

Prior to the impact, I had gone from my office on the “E” ring to the restroom on the “A” ring. When the plane impacted the building, there was a loud explosion and you could feel the building move like a tremor from an earthquake…As I moved from the “A” ring back to the “E” ring I encountered a lot of folks that were running away from where my office was located. I felt like a fish going up stream.

Sichler describes that the aviation fuel burned so dark that it was impossible to see anything in front of you. However, he proceeded through the darkness in order to find any co-workers that had been left behind. When he reached his office he found that it had already been evacuated and was locked. Sichler explains that in an emergency the doors leading to the corridors shut in order to prevent fire from spreading. A group of five others along with Sichler found a button to reopen these doors and proceeded to the area of impact to make sure the “E” ring had been completely evacuated.

This group called every office to make sure there weren’t people left behind. On their way out Sichler notes, “the smoke had moved to about two feet above the floor so that we had to crouch down and hold hands to make sure no one was left behind.” When they finally made it to the “A” ring of the pentagon Sichler and the group of five others noticed that there were still no first responders at the door. This left them the only ones to help those who were injured and move them to safety.

The center of the Pentagon, which was their “ground zero,” was where they gathered those who were injured. They all stayed together until help arrived, then proceeded through a tunnel that led to the south parking area of the Pentagon. Sichler states that he was “surprised to see all 26,000 employees standing in the parking lot,” though he still could not put together everything that had just happened. When he asked the first person he saw what had happened, they told him that a plane had hit the building. To which Sichler’s immediate thought was, “it was a helicopter since the impact was right by the helicopter pad but then they said it was an airliner and at that point I finally realized it was all related.”

Just as Sichler reached his co-workers that he had been separated from earlier, a panic rushed over the crowd of 26,000 employees. There was word about another inbound plane, Flight 93, “all 26,000 started to run across Route 1 towards the Pentagon city mall area to clear the parking lot,” said Sichler. They all stayed there for the remainder of the day. Eventually buses came to transport all employees home, “since no one could get their cars until days later,” states Sichler.

He also explains that going back to work it was a noticeably tense environment. The Pentagon added more security to the building and did studies after that tragic day “to evaluate preparedness and evacuation” as said by Sichler. Prior to the events of 9/11 there was no emergency evacuation plan for the Pentagon. Sichler also pointed out that before the Pentagon just felt like an office building but after the attack it feels more like a military installation because of the increased amount of security.

When asked how the events of this day have impacted our society, Sichler states, “I could write a book about this question but I think the biggest impact was that we finally realized that we were vulnerable to an unconventional attack.” Many would most likely agree that the world no longer felt safe. He went on to say that certain smells and sounds still bring back memories of that horrible day.

“I think it is important that we never forget the terrible loss of so many innocent people that day and the sacrifice of so many brave men and women that went into the towers knowing that they would never get out alive.” – Retired Lieutenant Colonel Sichler

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