Major Ryan Yants was watching the news on TV at the Pentagon when he saw the first plane crash into the World Trade Center.
“When the second attack happened, I had no doubt in my mind that it was a deliberate terrorist attack on the United States,” said Yantis, who was a public affairs officer at the time.
Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person. Just before 9:30 a.m., Yantis left his office and took a senior officer to a meeting in another part of the building – but the senior officer did not remember where he was.
“We stopped in Corridor 4 and there was a heated discussion about where the meeting was going to take place.” Eventually, they found a meeting in Corridor 7, and were eight minutes late when the alarm went off.
The Pentagon was attacked between Corridor 4 and 5.
If Yantis and his partner had gone straight to the meeting on time, “we would both be at the center of the impact and perhaps seriously injured or killed.”
As he hurried to the crash, Yantis saw “a large roll of smoke that came around the corner, so I pulled it out and walked out. The western face of the Pentagon was engulfed in flames.”
Flight 77 of American Airlines flew directly into the building, killing 59 passengers and five hijackers.
“I saw a pair of stretchers. I grabbed one and started helping people out.
For hours, the former Eagle Scout ran in and out to pick up medical supplies or bring injured people to the rescue station. “There was smoke and mascara everywhere and a clear reminder of death, destruction and ruin everywhere,” he said.
Yantis, now in his 60s and retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel in 2006, admits it took him many years to think or talk about what happened that day. But a moment is always alive in his mind.
“This little navy officer came to me and he was wearing a long sleeved black sweater, a knee-length navy uniform skirt, short heels. And he asked me for my t-shirt.
Removing her uniform shirt, she peeled off her sweaty, smoky tee, assuming she would use it as a bandage.
“He thanked me, dipped it in a bucket of water and then pulled it over his long brown hair. I asked him if he was OK.
She told him yes: she was on a search and rescue mission. “She didn’t want her hair on fire,” she explained.
By the end of the afternoon, Yantis had been taken back to his communications job, writing an announcement of the initial killings. A final report says at least 125 Pentagon staffers were killed, including 55 military personnel.
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But the real sense of loss did not reach Yantis until he returned to work the next day.
“I arrived at the Pentagon at 5 in the morning. It’s still on fire. As I was crossing the south parking lot, I had a strange feeling. [It’s a] Large parking lot [and] Almost empty except for a handful of cars – and I realized that the people who had cars here didn’t go home for some reason.