By Anthony V. Fasolo, Lt. Colonel USA (ret)
It will soon be 15 years since planes flown by terrorists crashed into the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon. Another plane, also flown by terrorists was taken over by passengers and downed in Pennsylvania.
I was working as a Department of the Army Civilian in the Plans and Operations Division of the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management in a window-less room in the Pentagon as this was happening and have reflected upon this event many times. I also wonder if we have learned anything from this event and what followed (our entrance into Afghanistan to destroy the terrorists’ training base and to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, and then the “Shock and Awe” of Iraq.
It was not until Monday, Sept. 17, almost one week after the attack, that I was able to return to my area in the Pentagon. I remember being surprised that my “stuff” (day-timer, bottle of water) was still there. The vents had even been cleaned and the carpets shampooed. Then at approximately 11:30 a.m., the ACSIM himself, Major General Van Antwerp, gathered us together in a shaded area on the Pentagon grounds and spoke to us. The gist of his message to us was:
- It had been confirmed that two of our co-workers had been killed along with almost two hundred others in the Pentagon and on the plane. Also, LTC Brian Birdwell, his deputy’s executive officer, had been severely burned and was in very serious condition. [LTC Birdwell survived and subsequently retired, wrote a book, “Refined by Fire”, in which he described his experiences. He is now a legislator in Texas] and,
- We should all put our affairs in order and hold no grudges against anyone. We also need to make amends now. [I did this and feel today that a load has been lifted from my shoulders] and,
- We all needed to look at the area where the plane hit. He understood that this would be a hard thing to do but that we had to do it. [It took me another two days before I could do this, but I remember my first impression when I saw the site. It looked like a large fireplace poker had hit the building and there was a round hole there. I had expected to see the outline of a plane going into the Pentagon but later learned that the plane was so full of jet fuel that the wings were completely incinerated]. How horrible.
So what are the lessons I have learned?
- Although these terrorists who hijacked these planes were Muslims, I know that not all Muslims are terrorists. We need to keep this in mind and recall that President Bush held an ecumenical service a few days after this event and said much the same thing: do not blame all Muslims.
- We all need to live and work together in this troubled world. This was my first thought as I left the Pentagon: How could anyone do what they did that day?
- We need to be sure that we have the best intelligence possible to decide if we should go to war or not. Also, now that we are at war, who exactly is the enemy and how will we know when it is over? I do know that there will not be any peace treaty signed aboard a battleship as was done in the Second World War. What nation could we sign the peace accord with? There is no nation. We also need to define victory.
- “Tell those you love that you love them every chance you get and if you hold any grudges get rid of them,” MG Van Antwerp.
So what lessons has congress learned and will we ever see the day when they will link arms and sing “God Bless America” again?