Local firefighters attack the flames after a plane struck the Pentagon in Arlington on Sept. 11, 2001 (Rich Lipski/The Washington Post)

“We had contingencies for everything except plane crashes”

General James T. Jackson was the commanding officer of the Military District of Washington when the Sept. 11 attacks were launched. He was watching news of the attacks on New York in his office at Fort McNair when someone came in and said there was “a big plume of black smoke coming from the Pentagon.” He walked to the back of his building, saw the smoke, and headed for the Pentagon, he said Monday.

Arriving shortly after the fire trucks, Jackson said there was “a big hole in the building, and a lot of people running around. There was no single person in control.” While Arlington and other local firefighters worked on extinguishing the fire, Jackson said he summoned members of the Army’s Old Guard, about 100 strong, to try to establish some order around the outside of the building, relieve the civilians who were tending to the wounded and control the Pentagon’s vast perimeter.

Jackson deferred to the fire and rescue operations run by Arlington’s Fire Chief Ed Plaugher and Deputy Chief James Schwartz, who was Arlington’s incident commander. Along with the FBI, they set up three command posts and tried to coordinate their efforts to treat the wounded and sensitively handle the dead.

“The success of that operation boiled down to the personalities,” Jackson said. “I’m all military, I can’t put fires out, so I was more than willing to support those guys, make sure they had the right materials.” As Schwartz did, he noted that there had been plenty of exercises prior to Sept. 11. “We had contingencies for just about everything except plane crashes.”

Tom Jackman

Live from the Pentagon Memorial, 2:45 p.m.

Monday was also a day for lessons at the Pentagon. Karla Latona brought her two children, Ellie, 5, and Zachary, 3, to wander amid the benches of the Sept. 11 memorial and learn about the terrorist attacks for the first time. Latona broke her history lecture down into the simplest terms: Each bench represented a person who died when men crashed a plane into the Pentagon. The man who was responsible was just killed himself.

“They looked at me squarely in the face. I think they understood,” said Latona, who is an ex-Marine.

It soon became clear they did. Latona said Zachary cringed each time a helicopter flew overhead, fearing it might smash into the Pentagon.

“There’s only one place we need to be today,” Latona said. “Our thoughts are with the families. I hope these families feel a sense of justice today.”

Justin Jouvenal

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Arlington incident commander: Initial response toward Rosslyn

After the first plane struck the World Trade Center, then-Deputy Arlington Fire Chief James Schwartz first learned of the incident from his wife, who was driving to work. Then the second plane hit, and in Arlington, folks in the USA Today building in Rosslyn called with concerns. Someone in that building then pulled the fire alarm, and Arlington trucks started heading that way, Schwartz said.

As they did, they saw the plane go overhead and past them toward the Pentagon, Schwartz said. Everyone turned around.

Arlington firefighters had rehearsed various emergency scenarios at the Pentagon over the years, including a terrorist takeover of the Secretary of Defense’s office, Schwartz said. They were ready to work with the Defense Protective Service. But then other federal agencies started arriving, and the need to deal with casualties on the west lawn of the Pentagon was priority one, Schwartz said.

Schwartz became incident commander and organized the fire response as trucks flashed in from around the region, followed by search and rescue operations, aided by Fairfax’s experienced disaster response team. Coordination with the FBI’s criminal investigation was also key.

“The first day was just a lot of organizing, and fighting the fire,” he said. Schwartz now heads the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ terrorism and homeland security committee, where he said he preaches the need for interagency cooperation. His first memory as he arrived on scene was John Jester, head of the Pentagon’s police force, rushing to brief him on the situation inside.

Tom Jackman

* * * *

McLean company gets orders for 1,000 bin Laden-related shirts

In McLean, the t-shirt company CustomInk said they had received orders for more than 1,000 bin Laden-related t-shirts from customers around the country. Spokeswoman Allyson Ayers said the shirts had a variety of designs, and “all of them with the sentiment of U.S. pride.”

The shirts will be printed and mailed to the customers, and CustomInk was not rushing any product directly to the streets in the D.C. area, Ayers said. On CustomInk’s website, customers can upload their own design or use already existing clip art, but Ayers said there was not any bin Laden-type clip art available. She said the company has many military customers around the country.

“We actually had some of our team members outside the White House last night,” Ayers noted. Were they selling t-shirts? “No, just celebrating,” she said.

Tom Jackman

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Muslim leaders call bin Laden’s death ‘justice’

Mohamed Magid, head of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, spoke at a news conference on Capitol Hill Monday, and said, “There are people who say he is ‘our’ [Muslim] symbol, but for the vast majority of people, they won’t care where he was buried. He will never be venerated in the Muslim world.” said Magid.

Magid said he believes the sea burial – and the lack of a trial – are both acceptable under Islam. “In Islam you can bury anywhere in the ground. But [the Prophet] Mohammed said if someone dies at sea, the sea becomes his graveyard,” Magid said at the news conference. Afterwards, he said in an interview: “I know some Muslims will look at me on TV and say, ‘What is he talking about?’”

Magid, also president of the Islamic Society of North America, said no Muslim majority country would have allowed bin Laden to have been buried somewhere public, and argued that most Muslims would not want him buried in their country.

Magid and Harris Tarin, office director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, called the killing “justice” because bin Laden reportedly fought back when forces attacked his home. “He chose the way he wanted to go,” said Tarin.

Magid said Islam calls for two witnesses to a crime, and said bin Laden had eliminated the need for a trial because he had boasted about his role in the killing of thousands. By killing bin Laden, he said, it could spare the lives of others, and perhaps bring some peace to bin Laden’s victims, “which is justice.”

Michelle Boorstein

Video: Remembering victims at the Pentagon Memorial

Live from the Pentagon Memorial, 12:27 p.m.

Andrea Doctor carried a white flower and a message for her husband.

“I came out to say, ‘Hey, they got him,’” Doctor said after placing the flower near his memorial bench.

Her husband, Johnnie “Doc” Doctor, a Navy information systems technician, had just started classes to become a state trooper when a plane slammed into the Pentagon in 2001. He was 32 and “so excited about his future,” Andrea Doctor said at the time of his death.

News of Bin Laden’s death brought back all the memories of that terrible day, Doctor said, but also some measure of relief that the man who masterminded the attack was gone.

“Osama Bin Laden’s family will feel the pain we’ve been feeling for the last 10 years,” Doctor said.

Justin Jouvenal

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Firefighter: “You probably knew somebody who knew somebody”

Fairfax County fire Capt. Greg Lange was in the second wave of firefighters who tried to extinguish the persistent fires in the Pentagon, and who dramatically draped the flag over the Pentagon wall to symbolize that America was still standing.

“It was very chaotic,” Lange said today. “The sheer power of the airplane and how far it penetrated into the building left an amazing sense of the destruction that occurred.”

Lange and his crew responded from the Beacon Hill area of Alexandria, and he brought along a colleague, Lt. Jim Morris, whose brother was missing from the World Trade Center, and later confirmed dead. Lange said Morris helped drop the flag from the roof of the Pentagon, and “being part of the company up there was a nice way for him to pay tribute to his brother.”

Tom Jackman

* * * *

Live from the Pentagon Memorial, 11:42 a.m.:

For John Chapa, news of Bin Laden’s death dredged up fresh memories of his mother’s death on Sept. 11, 2001, but offered little balm for his wounds. Rosa Maria Chapa was a senior manager at the Defense Intelligence Agency at the time of the Pentagon attack.

Chapa sat on the bench at the Pentagon memorial and offered a prayer for her. Bin Laden’s killing gave him “some closure,” he said, but did nothing to fill the hole in his family.

“My mother can’t be with her grandchildren. There will always be that empty seat at dinner,” Chapa said.


When Stuart Showalter heard the news of Bin Laden’s death this morning, he had one thought: He must visit the Pentagon’s Sept. 11 memorial. The Olney resident drove 45 minutes to the Pentagon and hopped out of his car with a small American flag and a camera around his neck.

“I’m looking at all the names that have died on that day and seeing the the U.S. has avenged them in some way,” Showalter said. “We’ve fought the [war on terrorism] clumsily. We’ve fought it poorly, but this is one thing we’ve done right.”

He went on to say: “Today, I’m a flag waver.”   

Justin Jouvenal

* * * *

Arlington Fire Department’s first responder role:

Capt. Charles Gibbs was one of many Arlington County Fire Department commanders who participated in the Arlington Public Library’s oral history project on the fifth anniversary of 9/11. He recalled:

“We kept getting a lot of Fire people, kept coming, really too many Fire people. So we set up companies to go in groups with one officer in charge of the group. This was very early on. We tried to get groups of three, four companies with one officer and it was typically somebody from Arlington because that’s who I knew at that point early on...You need to stretch your lines, figure out what you’re going to do with water and all those things yourself. You need to go to floors one, two, three...We didn’t have enough to get all five floors initially...and that just didn’t work because we didn’t hav enough people.”

The entire oral history project is here.

A retired Arlington firefighter, Vinny Del Guidice, also has posted detailed recollections from Arlington’s first responders here.

* * * *

Live from the Pentagon Memorial, 9:54 a.m.

Monday morning, Tim Dudgeon sat on a bench at the Pentagon Memorial and lightly ran his fingers over the name of his fiancee, Sandra “Sandy” Taylor, engraved on one of the memorial benches there. Taylor, 50, an Alexandria resident, was a civilian employee of the U.S. Army who died in the attacks nearly ten years ago.

“It’s such a happy day,” Dudgeon said, crying as he said it. “It is one of those things, a good day but a tough day.”

Dudgeon, 63, a marketing professional from Arlington, saw the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death this morning and was “elated” ... But then his mind started to whirl. Memories came rushing back of his outgoing fiancee, a tall blonde with, as he put it, “great legs.” The wedding they never had time to get to. The gold engagement ring with three diamonds that he bought her that was miraculously recovered in the rubble. He got it back months later.

“I was elated and then kind of just my mind started racing. I was trying to stay elated and then memories started coming home,” he said. “How much I loved her. Just everything about her. She was a wonderful woman.”

He comes to sit on her bench in the serene stone memorial -- where the quiet is punctuated from time to time by blaring trucks and the whirl of traffic on I-395. But he is not a “professional mourner.”

“Today I think it’s necessary I be here,” he said.

Annie Gowen

* * * *

Live from outside the Pentagon, 8:26 a.m.

Air Force Lt. Col. Art Hephy, said the death of Bin Laden marked an

important milestone. “It’s been a long time coming. This shows the perserverance of the American spirit,” Hephy said.

Jeff Frankson, a defense analyst from Glen Rock, N.J., said a friend’s uncle was seriously burned during the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, so the death of Bin Laden has special significance. He planned to take a few minutes today to visit the the Pentagon’s Sept. 11 memorial.

“I’m going out with a friend tonight and I will definitely have a few extra drinks,” Frankson said. “It’s a real moral victory, more than anything else,” Frankson said.

Justin Jouvenal

* * * *

Live from the Pentagon Metro, 7:20 a.m.

At the Pentagon Metro station, civilian and military workers streamed out for another workweek. Few wanted to discuss Bin Laden’s death, but there was a quiet sense of satisfaction among some that a mission had been accomplished.

“A demon has died,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Libby Melendez. “It won’t replace the lives lost, but justice has been served.”

Justin Jouvenal

* * * *

Live from the Pentagon Memorial, 1:16 a.m.

About two dozen people trickled into the Pentagon memorial in the hours after the President’s speech. Most wandered silently along the gravel paths, many took photos with their cameras, and a few sobbed alone.

Clarence Williams