“Ted Koppel actually said my name,” Brennan is saying, recounting his interview on the TV news show “Nightline,” which aired that day, and which he has replayed on his VCR every Sept. 11 since. “He said, ‘Officer Don Brennan will be the first voice you hear.’ They said 3 million people will be watching. They said, ‘Don’t look at the red light.’ And I said, ‘I know enough from Burbank’ ” — where he once worked as a security guard for “Wheel of Fortune” - “ ‘not to look at the red light.’ So, not to pat myself on the back, but it came across real good.”
The Don Brennan who came across was his best self, a heroic self, brave and confident, his white uniform crisp and his badge shining as he explained what he did on the morning the plane crashed into the Pentagon. He said that it was like something out of a war movie. That he ran toward “people who were totally screaming.” And that the first casualty he saw was a man in a military uniform.
“He came out of the hallway and [was] bleeding profuse from a head wound,” Brennan said as the camera closed in on his broad face, eyes blinking behind large wire-rimmed glasses. “And I looked at him. And I, I tried to say something to him. And he collapsed. . . . He appeared to be dead to me. And they said, ‘Officer Brennan, leave the fatalities.’ ”
The Don Brennan of this July morning, however, is no longer certain about all that. He is 62, facing retirement and lingering doubts about how he acted that day, questions that claw at his conscience, and whose only resolution, he has come to realize, is to figure out who the wounded man was.
“I’m trying to visualize him. He had a piece of metal in his forehead — right there,” Brennan says, pressing a thumb to his own forehead. “He was in a dress military uniform. A Marine? I can’t say. I wish I had his name, because when the casualty list came out, then I would know. I would like to know more about him.”
He goes to work, walking through
the cool gray maze of corridors, a pale figure blending into the morning rush of people in camouflage and dress khakis heading to a thousand cubicles. He passes a wall of portraits of top Pentagon officials. “There’s your secretary, your deputy, your Joint Chiefs — whoa,” says Brennan, who often says “whoa,” as if in deference to power, to life, to all that is overwhelming.
He walks out into the hot sunshine — “Whoa,” he says — and crosses into an annex building, arriving at the Pentagon police laundry, where he has been assigned to light duty for the past year along with other infirm officers.
“So,” Brennan says, ducking under the counter and taking up his post, a chair in front of rows of clean uniforms wrapped in cellophane. “Now I’m here.”
He is a man less definitive now in almost every way. His brown hair is graying, his memory dimming, his hearing failing, which is why he is on light duty.