One Year After Sept. 11

One Year After Sept. 11

On anniversary, Arlington remembers.

Just after 9:30 in the morning, one year ago today, an airplane loaded with fuel and passengers, hijacked shortly after taking off from Dulles International Airport, flew directly into the Pentagon.

The attack claimed 184 lives - 125 in the Pentagon, and 59 from American Airlines Flight 77.

Coming just minutes after the joint attacks on the World Trade Center towers, the death toll for the day rose to 3,011.

The day has loomed over the year past, casting its shadow into even the brightest of days. Saturday afternoon, where 2,600 runners gathered outside the Double Tree Hotel, in Crystal City, for a friendly five-kilometer run around south Arlington.

But the planes flying overhead, the sunny, clear blue skies and the theme of the race, dedicated to raising money for local charities and the families of those murdered in the attacks last year all left a tinge of melancholy on the race participants.

Many runners, like Patrick Brennan, ran the race sandwiched by pieces of paper. On front, they wore their entry number. On back, they had pinned a sheet of paper with a name, or a face, of a loved one killed last year.

Brennan ran as part of a team, with other US Marshals from the Washington area. But on his back, he had pinned a piece of paper dedicating his effort to his cousin Mike, a firefighter with the New York Fire Department. Mike Brennan was killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center.

The sense of camaraderie between police officers was strong at the race, organized by the Arlington Police Department, who drew law enforcement officers from around the country, including New Jersey and California.

But even the many non-police runners had some sense of the significance of the event.

Jay Wind, president of a local runners' group, suggested the idea of the 5K race to the Arlington Police. He was impressed by the turn out, the highest for a first-time race in the county.

"At two points on the course, everybody could see everybody else," Wind said. "That was 2,600 of us. It's almost inconceivable how many that is. But you see how many 2,600 people is, and you realize that another 411 were killed - it's incomprehensible how many more were killed."

Wind echoed sentiments from a year before. On Sept. 11, Art Reilly, in Washington from Monmouth, N.J., had to make his way on foot from the State Department to his son’s home in Alexandria. Along the way, he tried to understand the day's events.

"I can’t even conceive of what happened today," he said.

<b>LIKE REILLY,</b> Marcia Anderson spent a good portion of Sept. 11 on her feet. Anderson, a Metro employee, was working in the Metro Sales Office in the Pentagon that morning, arriving early to open before the rush of Pentagon employees came through.

"First, I heard a loud noise. I didn’t pay attention until people started running down the hall, hollering, 'Get out, get out, get out,'" she said this month, remembering the day. "It looked like somebody was bombing us. So I started running like everybody else."

She got out quickly, but wasn't sure where to go, so Anderson started walking back to the Metro offices in downtown DC, getting turned around slightly but otherwise making it to Metro center unharmed, four or five hours later.

She wasn’t alone on the road. "Traffic was at a standstill, you couldn’t go anywhere. Everyone was walking," she said.

Clarence Tobias also started work early that morning, serving as the bus supervisor on the Pentagon Metro Bus platform. He was talking to a police officer from Defense Protective Services shortly before American Flight 77 flew into the west side of the building.

"We were talking about what happened in New York, and I was saying I hoped we didn’t get hit, with all the people here," Tobias said last week.

When those hopes were dashed, Tobias acted quickly, alerting Metro management to stop all service to the Pentagon. Then he began evacuating the area. "It didn't bother me," he said. "I'm a Vietnam vet. But the people who weren’t used to it didn’t know how to handle it."

So Tobias picked up a woman who had been trampled in the rush of people fleeing the Pentagon, and carried her on his back to safety at a quiet spot on Army-Navy Drive. "Apparently she had fallen, hit her head in the rush," Tobias said. Then he returned and led 12 others at the bus platform to the same place.

He stayed at the Pentagon until 1:30 that afternoon, offering to help with evacuation. Then Tobias went to the Pentagon City Metrobus Station, where he helped reroute Metro traffic until 6:30 p.m.

The late hours were all right, he said, because he already knew his family was safe. "I have four wonderful kids, and they were trying to reach me at the Pentagon - they knew I was working," Tobias recalled. He was able to get a phone call out on his cell phone - one of the few that worked that day - and called his mother, who relayed the message to the family that he was safe.

<b>EVACUATION ROUTES</b> were a concern beyond the Pentagon. Many Arlingtonians wondered how they would get out of the area, if there were further attacks - how they would find out what was happening, and where they should go.

There was no completely effective way to get that word out, no emergency communications system in place for everyday Arlingtonians. Police and fire personnel were already busy, so the county’s emergency communications center wasn't the best place to call for mundane questions.

That shortcoming was emphasized in the After Action Report on Arlington's response last September, delivered to the county last month. But at the same time, County Manager Ron Carlee said, the county was already working to fill the gap.

Last Friday, Carlee announced the formation of the county's Citizen Corps Council, a 10-15 person commission overseeing emergency preparedness outreach efforts to Arlington's citizens.

It was different from other citizen commissions appointed by County Board members, though, he said. The CCC will be integrated into emergency operations, working with county staff, police and fire officials to ensure that Arlington is adequately prepared for future disasters and emergencies - whether terrorist attacks or hurricanes.

The CCC's central council would oversee four other areas of outreach, looking at public emergency communication procedures, public education efforts, coordinating the efforts of volunteers in the community to prepare for emergencies and identifying local resources that could be useful in emergencies.

At the same time he announced formation of the group, Carlee also named Jackie Snelling, a member of the Arlington Civic Federation, to head the group. Snelling has been a vocal proponent of some group to perform the work outlined for the CCC.

"Over the next week, we'll be naming additional people to leadership positions on the council, to begin working immediately with Jackie," Carlee said. In addition, the county will seek volunteers to fill out the four subsidiary commissions, to get "the broadest coverage possible" of the county’s population, he said.

<b>EVEN WITH</b> the CCC in place, many of Arlington’s residents will still rely on the media to provide some sense of events in future disasters, natural or manmade.

Sept. 11 took the media as much by surprise as anyone else, said Dan Devany, general manager and news director of public radio station WETA, based in Shirlington. He and the station’s on-air staff had to make snap decisions when the Pentagon was attacked.

The second attack on the Trade Center, and the flight hitting the Pentagon, happened after WETA’s morning news programming usually ends. But after the first plane, the station canceled its morning music programs and went to an all-news feed from National Public Radio.

"It was happening just as we were trying to get our brains wrapped around what happened at the Trade Center. The Pentagon is about a mile away, so when the plane went in, we felt it here," he said. "We went, like everyone else, into the surreal mode of just walking into the thing, figuring out what was happening and what we needed to do about it."

At the same time, station staff members were trying to make sure their families were safe. "There was one person who had a brother who was supposed to be working at the Trade Center," he said, which led to some frantic phone calls before the man was found, unharmed, away from the WTC.

Devany and his news staff spent days on end at the station, monitoring other forms of media: TV, the Internet, news wire services. Like other media outlets, they devoted the four days after the attacks to nearly non-stop news coverage.

But as the weekend approached, WETA began to shift gears, beginning to shift back to broadcasting music for most of the day, with only brief hourly news reports.

"There was a point where we said, we have to monitor everything coming in from all these sources, and leave the wall-to-wall coverage," Devany said. "The attacks were over, there had been a mobilization… It felt right going back to cultural programming. But we were prepared, and still are, that if something breaks, we’ll go right to it."

<b>ARLINGTON FIREFIGHTERS</b> were already prepared on Sept. 11, they said, to deal with terrorist attacks, the focus of a push by Fire Chief Ed Plaugher since the Oklahoma City bombing.

But the firefighters of Fire Station No. 4 said they weren’t prepared for the scene inside the Pentagon. The B shift workers were on duty that day, towards the beginning of a 24-hour shift on call.

"As far as being in there, we saw a lot of bodies. It was really tough," said Paul Marshall, a member of the station’s Technical Rescue Team, the heavy rescue personnel for the Arlington Fire Department.

Station 4 firefighters spent part of Sept. 11 on the Pentagon’s roof, fighting the fire that burned on jet fuel from Flight 77. But when the blaze was under control, they also started assessing the damage to the inside, and looking for survivors trapped in the wreckage.

Pieces of the plane were still inside the hole carved by the plane, and while the firefighters found human remains in the Pentagon, they never found a survivor. They alerted the FBI and police on the scene when they found anything in the hole, Marshall said, but before they removed anything from the Pentagon, firefighters had to shore up roof supports, to keep the building from collapsing on top of the rescuers.

Arlington’s work on the Pentagon ended after 11 days, when firefighters ended their work at the site, and the county turned the scene over to the FBI. FBI agents spent a few more weeks on the ground, collecting evidence, before the reconstruction effort started.

At the same time, the devastation in New York was just becoming clear, as was the loss of life to the New York Fire Department. It pained Arlington firefighters to see their comrades to the north suffer such a loss.

"My wife’s boss asked her whether I felt neglected," Marshall said, given the amount of attention paid to the FDNY. But at Station 4, the firefighters were just as stunned by what had happened in New York.

"The magnitude of what happened there, compared to here… you’re talking apples and oranges," said Jimmy Anderson.

Ground Zero immediately became a public site, with cameras covering recovery efforts there, as rescuers tried to find survivors in the rubble. In contrast, "the media wasn’t allowed into the Pentagon," Anderson said. "A lot of stuff was not captured that happened there."

That wasn’t a major concern, though, for Arlington’s firefighters. Instead, they were looking at fundraisers, and hoping that more money will go to the families of firefighters and other victims killed in the attacks.

"The real heroes are the families that lost people in the Pentagon, or on Flight 77," said Marshall. "You never hear anybody talking about the families."

<b>AT THE 5K</b> race Saturday, the 2,600 runners paid $25 to enter, raising over $30,000, to be split between the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, a Pentagon’s victims fund and the New York Police and Fire Widow and Children’s Fund.

"I talked to a guy from a local radio station who said, ‘This is a way for people to thank the first responders,’" said Capt. Matt Smith, who organized the race for the Police Department. "I said no, you’ve got it backwards. This is a way for us to thank the public for their support, and raise some money for the victims of the attacks."

Tobias will spend this Sept. 11 working at the Pentagon Bus Station. "I’m going to do the best I can to make it easy for people," he said. "I know what they’ll be going through."

He knew 14 of the victims killed a year ago, and misses seeing them. Being on the bus platform will make their absence clear. "One of the ladies, Shelley Marshall, she always used to bring me cookies," he said. "These were people I knew very well. All I had was tears in my heart when I found out they were in that section. These were people I would see everyday, I will never see anymore."

Tobias still has problems when planes fly over the Pentagon. He had nightmares for three months after Sept. 11, until he returned to work in December. This year, he will celebrate December a different way.

"I’m getting married Dec. 14," he said, to a woman who works at the Pentagon. They met when she counseled him for his trauma after Sept. 11.

"She stuck by my side, and helped me get back on track," Tobias said. "I thank her everyday for that."