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The Pentagon's First Heroes in a Day of Heroes

The Pentagon's First Heroes in a Day of Heroes

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service.

Washington D.C. -- (AFPS) September 24, 2001 -- What sort of person hears an explosion -- and runs toward it?

Ask the people alive today because some Defense Protective Service officers did exactly that after the hijacked jetliner hit the Pentagon Sept. 11.

Pentagon Police officers (from left) Arthur Rosati, George Clodfelter, David Webster, Fred Hodges, Anthony Dozier and Mark Bright stand next to a Defense Protective Service squad car near the site of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon. As "first responders" to the attack, the officers directed people to safety, rescued trapped workers, rendered first aid and kept the building command post advised of events on the scene.

Photo by Jim Garamone

"The 'muscle part' of your brain takes over and you just do what you've been trained to do," said Arthur Rosati, a member of the Pentagon Police and the union shop steward for the Fraternal Order of Police D.C. 1 Lodge.

Defense Protective Service officers were the first on the scene of the terrorist attack. One, Mark Bright, actually saw the plane hit the building. He had been manning the guard booth at the Mall Entrance to the building.

"I saw the plane at the Navy Annex area," he said. "I knew it was going to strike the building because it was very, very low -- at the height of the street lights. It knocked a couple down." The plane would have been seconds from impact -- the annex is only a few hundred yards from the Pentagon.

He said he heard the plane "power-up" just before it struck the Pentagon. "As soon as it struck the building I just called in an attack, because I knew it couldn't be accidental," Bright said. He jumped into his police cruiser and headed to the area.

As he drove to the site, he reported what he was seeing to the DPS command post. He saw people streaming from the building and stopped to help. "One lady was burned and I brought her to the cruiser and helped her," he said.

But Bright's responsibility as the first officer on the scene was to report what was going on. He also had to assess the damage, check to see if chemicals were part of the attack and check the perimeter to ensure the plane was not merely the opening move in an attack on the nation's military headquarters.

He directed people stopping on nearby Highway 27, which parallels the damaged wall, how they could help. Pentagon workers also pitched in to help the injured.

"I have great thanks for those people, because most people would have been in shock," he said. He also called for ambulances and fire trucks. All the while, he also kept his eye on the sky, because by that time the command post had received reports of a possible second plane.

George Clodfelter, a DPS master police officer, had just left a meeting that had adjourned because of the World Trade Center attack minutes before.

"I was near the Mall entrance when I heard the explosion," Clodfelter said. "I looked up and saw the smoke coming from the heliport area, so I doubled back around and went there." He also organized people streaming from the Corridor 5 entrance to the Pentagon. He designated two Army lieutenant colonels to direct the evacuees away from the area. Then he went toward the crash site.

"I went between the heliport and the building," he said. He met a fellow DPS officer and they heard people in the heliport building screaming for help. Together they boosted a maintenance worker inside who cleared debris and started handing people through.

"That maintenance man, I wish I knew his name. He was a real hero," Clodfelter said. "The first out was a young mother. She passed me her 4-month old baby."

A Pentagon worker named Kirk Hamlet came up and helped.

"I went back and got another individual out," Clodfelter continued. By then, a crash truck parked next to the heliport was on fire. He told Hamlet and his partner that they had to work faster. Hamlet and Clodfelter were pulling out another woman when the truck exploded. "(My partner) pushed me down," Clodfelter said. "He saved my life."

The three evacuated another woman and then, after the maintenance man managed to move away some debris, rescued a man who'd suffered third-degree burns on his hands and forearms, Clodfelter said.

"When I reached down to haul him out, some of his skin came off. His hair was still smoldering so I put that out, and his back was burned," he said. "We got him away, and then all hell broke loose. We couldn't go back in after that."

Rosati was in a meeting when the plane hit. "I ran down the hallway and there was smoke everywhere. You could smell the jet fuel, it was unbearable," he said. "I was overcome with smoke, but managed to get a lieutenant colonel out. I went back in to the hallway. The smoke was so dense I couldn't stay. I was ordered out."

Rosati went out a different entrance and met Clodfelter. "He had this astonished look on his face, and he just looked at me and said, 'This is insane.' He had blood all over his shirt. I hugged him and said we had to get out."

Pentagon Police officers Anthony Dozier and David Webster were on bike patrol on the Metro platform, on the far side of the building, when the plane struck.

"We'd just come from roll call and had been told of the attack in New York," Dozier said. "I felt the aircraft hit the building but I didn't know what it was. Being on the Metro platform, I thought it might be a train on the subway until I heard the people on the radio yelling 'We were hit! We were hit! Wedge 1! Wedge 1!'"

Dozier and Webster immediately pedaled to the crash site. "We observed people coming out of the building who were badly burned," Dozier said. "We also had some folks coming out of the building from the Corridor 2 side who didn't know exactly what part of the building was hit. They were moving toward the site rather than away. I had to direct people away."

He said he didn't know if the crash was going to be a first step in an extended attack. "When that call came over the radio, we just wanted to get to the area and help as many people as we could," he said.

Webster said it took about 30 seconds to reach the site. He hopped off his bike and ran into Corridor 5 and 6 to help people out. "I helped three people out," Webster said. "I thought about a secondary device, because I thought it was a bomb, not a plane, that hit us. Then I thought about the people still in the building and went back in."

He went down the corridor to the D Ring, yelling for people. "There were downed walls and lights," he said. "I moved some stuff out of the way and some Army people were able to get out." He ran into Clodfelter, who was also trying to locate and evacuate people.

"I had tunnel vision," Webster said. "I was focused on helping people. I got out about six or seven. There was a lot of smoke, a lot of fumes, and it was very hot. It was very hard to breathe, and smoke was in our eyes. We helped another person out, but without breathing apparatus, there wasn't much more we could do."

When Webster left the building, the Arlington County police and fire departments had arrived. He saw Army personnel carrying people across the grass.

"It was chaos," he said. "I've never seen anything like that before. It's got to be the craziest thing I've ever seen, but I was able to stay focused on the mission I had to do.

"Luckily, the good training we get forced me to have that tunnel vision and to go in and do what I had to do. I just wish I could have gotten back into one area where stuff was down. I know there were some more people who needed help. I just wish I could have got back there."

DPS field-training officer Fred Hodges was also among the first responders in the area. He heard the blast and felt debris hit his car.

He said to his partner, Marty Baker, "Oh, no. Not here!" and then moved to the site.

He helped evacuate people from Corridor 4. "A lot of military officers wanted to help, but they were disoriented," Hodges said. "I guided them out. As soon as (the military personnel) got their sense of awareness they came back to help."

Hodges provided what aid he could to those streaming from the building. "It seemed like an eternity before the fire trucks arrived, but it was only five minutes," he said. "It was the worst thing I have ever seen. I'm a 26-year Army soldier. I retired in 1992. I spent a year in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, and I've never seen nothing like this in all my life."

 

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).

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