American Forces Press Service
THE PENTAGON, Sept. 19, 2001 — Under normal circumstances, the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) is known best as a ceremonial unit. Its soldiers guard the Tomb of the Unknowns at nearby Arlington National Cemetery. They take part in parades and commemorations. But ceremonial uniforms were put
away in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon that claimed 188 lives and injured hundreds more.
In the days after the attack, Old Guard soldiers could be seen marching in single files over terrain strewn with
debris toward the site where a hijacked passenger plane smashed into one of the building's five sides. The soldiers wore face shields, protective breathing masks and white biological protection garments over their battle dress uniforms. Dust and soot covered their yellow protective boots. And they faced the grim task of sifting through the rubble to recover the remains of victims.
Soldiers from the Old Guard went on alert with the first attack, but were not sent to the Pentagon immediately, Staff Sgt. Mark Erwin said. As firefighters battled the blaze caused by the impact of a fully fueled American Airlines Boeing 757, another Military District of Washington unit was assembling, the MDW Engineer Company.
Old Guard's Company B deployed along with the engineers at 11:30 a.m., less than two hours after impact. As firemen fought the blaze, a section of the building collapsed. The task of the MDW soldiers was to take part in search and rescue operations, finding survivors and bringing them to safety.
Four days into the response, when it became evident that all possible survivors had been removed from the building, Old Guard soldiers turned their attention to assisting in recovery efforts, locating and marking spots for evidence collection specialists and mortuary affairs personnel to come and do their work. Soldiers from the unit's eight companies have rotated in shifts, arriving and departing at the Pentagon in camouflaged military trucks.
For Pfc. Daniel Cooper, 21, whose normal job it is to be part of high-visibility ceremonies as a member of the
Presidential Marching Platoon, aiding in the Pentagon recovery operations came as a shock.
“It doesn't seem real. This is the Pentagon and this isn't supposed to happen,” he said. “Everything is torn down and in shambles.”
Another member of the platoon, 20-year-old Spc. Joshua Lee Behrens, was also taken aback by the results of the terrorist attack.
“It's a mess inside. It's like hell on earth. You can't see anything. It's dark and dusty, there's asbestos, and it
smells real bad,” Behrens said. “Everything's drenched in water, everything is charred.”
Among other Old Guard tasks is Pentagon tour guide duty, and some of Behrens' fellow Old Guard soldiers were inside the Pentagon when the attack occurred. Behrens had some tense moments until he found out they were safe.
“Everybody was nervous. There wasn't a soul among us who wasn't praying for our buddies from our platoon who were tour-guiding in the Pentagon,” Behrens said. “We weren't sure about their status. We were constantly thinking about them. Luckily, they made it out fine.”
Like many other Old Guard soldiers, Sgt. Maj. Aubrey Butts knew someone who was in the Pentagon when the tragic incident occurred. That someone was his wife, Lucy, an Army civilian employee who works as a management assistant in the Army Operations Center. She made it out safely.
“I had to just have faith in God until I found out she was safe,” Butts said. “In the meantime, I had a lot of soldiers I had to take care of, and I just prayed and hoped that she was all right. Now I'm angry. Someone tried to kill a member of my family.”
Pfc. Travis Borrego, 21, of the Old Guard's Honor Guard company, also said he was angry. His anger was mixed with shock that something like this could happen so close to home.
“You see stuff like this on TV, and you never think that it will happen in America. This is too close to where we live and work,” Borrego said. “This is terrible. All these American people dying needlessly.”
Though the task that confronts the Old Guard soldiers is a terrible one, Borrego said he is part of the recovery effort.
“I'm glad that we can do anything to help. It's our people in there,” he said. “Anything we can do to help, I'm more than glad to do it.”
Karen Ware is proud of her son, David, a young man from a long line of military men who has known since the sixth grade that his destiny was in uniform.
At age 22, her son is now an infantry team leader with the Old Guard stationed at Fort Myer, Va. Formally the 1st Infantry Regiment, Old Guard members are specially selected to perform in ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and for guard duty at the White House. Ware's son worked at the Pentagon through August, conducting tours. His mother, a paralegal specialist in the U.S. Trustees' office in Macon, says her son's steady personality and dashing profile make him perfect for leading groups through the parts of the enormous building open to the public. He once showed model Christie Brinkley around, and had a photograph taken of himself with the tall blonde.
Sept. 12, the day after American Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, David Ware volunteered to return to his former post to assist with the recovery effort.
“He told me, ‘I want to go find my friends, Mom,' ” Karen Ware said.
Even after it became apparent that no survivors would be found, David Ware stayed on in the Pentagon recovery effort. He learned things basic training had not prepared him for, like how to swab Vicks Vapo-Rub
under his nose, behind a gas mask that didn't quite filter out the stench of jet fuel and death.
Karen Ware said she doesn't know how her son will ever get over the gruesome sights he has run across in the carnage left in Flight 77's wake. The Boeing 757 carved a hole in six stories high and 200 feet wide in the
nation's defense headquarters. The Department of Defense has identified 93 victims from Flight 77 and 190 from the Pentagon.
Karen Ware says that these days, concerns for the physical safety of her son and daughter-in-law – a 21-year-old member of the Army Reserves also named Karen – has replaced her concern for their psychological well-being.
“Am I worried about him going overseas? Sure I am,” Karen Ware said. “He is my only child, but that's what he signed up for.”
Sgt. Jarrod Stover, 23, a 1996 graduate of Hartselle High School, and a detachment of about 45 soldiers based at Fort Myer, Va., had just completed a full-honor funeral at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday.
“Additionally, there were about 20 mourners,” he said. “We were walking off the grave site, when we heard the roar of a plane. We looked up to see a jetliner flying about 100 feet above us.”
Stover, interviewed by telephone at Fort Myer today, said, “We were aware that the prime minister of Australia was coming, and we first thought the plane had something to do with his arrival.”
While the soldiers knew the aircraft was incredibly low, they did not know that a terrorist was at the controls.
“I had just stepped onto our bus, when the plane hit the Pentagon,” Stover said. “We were less than a half-mile from it. We felt the shock wave, which shook the glass in the windows. Still not knowing what was happening, one of our soldiers yelled that the Pentagon was smoking.”
Stover is a member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard. He said he and his men were rushed back to the company at Fort Myer, which is connected to the cemetery.
“At certain points, parts of the cemetery are only about 100 yards from the Pentagon,” he said.
Stover said that the cemetery, a national memorial, was closed immediately, and that all buildings at Fort Myer were evacuated, with soldiers standing guard at each one. “We got our bags and were prepared to go to the Pentagon,” he said. “They eventually sent two companies from my regiment and kept the rest of us away. We sent a platoon the next day, and our men came back and forth in relief.”
Stover grew up in Decatur and Hartselle, and his parents, Tommy and Sabrina Stover, live in Decatur.
“I called my parents two hours after the attack to let them know what was happening at the base,” he said. “I would have called earlier, but our cell phones were confiscated by the first sergeant until they had time to figure out what had happened.”
Stover, who lives in nearby Woodbridge, Va., with his wife, Emily, enlisted in the Army five years ago.
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard