The Pentagon Memorial Chapel
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
Chapels are a common sight in many military communities, but one in particular holds a very special place for many of us that were serving on September 11, 2001.
The Pentagon Memorial Chapel is located at the crash site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Dedicated a year to the day after the event, the chapel is a solemn place for prayer, meditation and reflection. Throughout the week, services for various faiths are held at the chapel and those who come to worship there recognize that it’s a special place, one that symbolizes strength, hope, and rebuilding. The Chapel helps meet the spiritual needs of all major faiths, and is open 24 hours a day for prayer and meditation,
According to the Office of the Pentagon Chaplain, the Pentagon Memorial Chapel was the vision of the 3 most senior government civilians and the Chiefs of Chaplains. They, among others, realized that the Pentagon workforce needed a symbol for their recovery.
The point of impact where American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon had become a place where the Pentagon community and other officials came to leave flowers and other symbols of respect and mourning. Rather than return the area to office space, leaders decided to build the Chapel and use the transforming power found in faith to commemorate the events of that tragic day.
One special attribute of the physical space is the Chapel’s memorial windows. Along the wall that faces the outdoor public memorial are four stained-glass windows dedicated to those who perished. Those windows represent one piece of art by Dennis Roberts of IHS Studios and each window has a plaque at the bottom with a dedication to groups who lost friends and comrades that day.
The memorial stained-glass window in the front of the Chapel is designed like the five-sided “Survivor’s Pin,” which was given to the survivors of the attack on the Pentagon. The window links together the five military branches that guard the Nation. The American Bald Eagle is in a vigilant stance, symbolizing the past and present generations of those who defend our country. The flag is displayed upon alternating rays of green and gold, which portray the dark trials and bright triumphs in our history. The Pentagon building represents the undefeated bulwark at the heart of our defenses and the more than 23,000 men and women who contribute to the planning and execution of the defense of our country. The olive branch reveals the national character: always desiring peace but prepared to defend freedom. The two crimson rings total 184 individual pieces of glass, each representing those who lost their lives in the attack.
I served in the U.S. Army for 10 years as an enlisted member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. After getting out of the Army, I decided to join the U.S. Navy Reserves. I was active duty for training on September 11, 2001 attending the Navy’s Leadership Continuum Course at the Mine Warfare Training Center at Naval Station (NAVSTA) Ingleside, Texas. NAVSTA Ingleside is no longer an active Navy military installation. Several active-duty mine warfare first class petty officers and three Naval Reservists (all with admin rates) that included me were attending the training course on that fateful day. My classmates and I were in our second, and final, week of training when the terrorist attacks occurred.
My classmates and I learned about the attack shortly after the first plane was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC). We were on a break when the Command Master Chief entered our classroom and said, “A plane has evidently crashed into one of the World Trade Center – you might want to turn on the television (TV) and watch the news report until it is time to resume your training.” The Master Chief thereafter departed to return to his duties. The TV in our classroom was used to show training videos during training courses.
One of our instructors, a First Class Minean, turned on the TV and tuned it to CNN. Those of us in the room stood around watching the news report. CNN, as with other networks, had reported that there were reports that a private plane had accidentally crashed into WTC North Tower. As we stood there watching the news report, each of us witnessed the second plane slam into the WTC South Tower. One of my active-duty classmates “sat down hard” and exclaimed, “We are under attack, we are at war!” The time was 8:03 a.m. Central Standard Time (9:03 a.m. in New York City).
We all stood there stunned and took in what we had just seen. CNN’s anchor and reporters were reporting on what appeared to be a Boeing 767 that had slammed into the second tower. It took at least a minute for my mind to register what I had just seen. My thoughts were, “Surely this is not really happening – not in our country.” Once what happened registered with me, I too realized that our nation was now at war. It did not register in mind that the United States had just been brought into a new kind of war against a new kind of enemy.
Our other classmates and instructors returned to the room. They were stunned when we told them what we had just seen. They too became glued to the TV as everyone was trying to make sense out of what we had just witnesses.
I lost track of time and do not recall how long we all stood and sat around watching the horrible and shocking news unfold.
My classmates and I sat with our instructors watching the news coverage of what would end up serving as the catalyst for the Global War on Terrorism. We heard the CNN anchors report that U.S. government officials, the FAA, and FBI had reports of other aircraft that may have been hijacked.
Our conversation focused on the terrorist attack we had witnessed while watching CNN news. We also all expressed concern for those in the two WTC towers and the passengers aboard the two airliners that had crashed into the towers.
Then at 9:37 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time), Flight 77 was crashed into the western façade of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. We heard the news report of the attack on the Pentagon shortly thereafter. That news confirmed to those of us in the classroom that our nation was indeed under attack.
At approximately 9:45 a.m. (to the best of my recollection), the Command Master Chief returned to the classroom and informed us that he had received official confirmation (not sure of the source of his news) that the World Trade Center had indeed been attacked and struck by two commercial airliners. He told us to stand down and await orders.
As we all sat in the classroom watching the news coverage and waiting for orders as to what we were expected to do, I could not help but think of what my then 14-year old daughter (she will be 32 at the end of next month) and wife were thinking and how they were responding. I also thought of the rest of my family and said a few silent prayers for them. At the very moment the first plane hit the WTC, they were at an orthodontic appointment for daughter. I stepped out into the hallway and called my wife’s cell phone. I could not get through as the phone lines were “jammed” with calls of worried Americans. I keep trying to call my wife at different times during the day and was not able to reach her until about 11:00 p.m. that night.
Shortly after 10:00 a.m., CNN reported that another flight, Flight 93, had been hijacked and that the plane had crashed near Stonycreek Township in Pennsylvania. That news further stunned my classmates and I.
At approximately 10:30 a.m. (to the best of my recollection), the Command Master Chief returned to our classroom and informed the active-duty mine warfare men that they were to immediately report to their respective ships (minesweepers of the Osprey-Class). My active-duty classmates immediately departed to join their respective ships. I was not to see them again.
Later, word was passed that all non-essential personnel were to depart from Naval Station Ingleside. I assumed that the directive applied to the Department of Navy civilian employees and contractors were working on the naval station.
At noon, the course instructors informed my fellow reservists and I that we were to return to our respective hotels and await further orders. As I departed the Mine Warfare Training Center, I saw a lot of activity on the base. Base security forces had erected both concrete and water filled barriers at the gate and along the perimeter fence. Armed Master of Arms personnel had manned the gate and controlling access into and out of the base. I also saw other Mater of Arms personnel who were patrolling the base. I departed the base and returned to my hotel in Ingleside to await further orders.
I then spent two days in limbo at my hotel awaiting word as to what I was expected to do. I phoned and reported into the Mine Warfare Center twice a day and asked if there were any orders or instructions for me. Meanwhile, I informed my civilian employee, the Insurance Council of Texas, about my status. My executive director was concerned that I might be kept on active-duty. I told him that it was possible that I may not be released back to reserve status. I noted that I knew that there was a possibility that someday I could be called to active-duty and discussed how he could temporary fill my position. I kept in touch with my wife throughout the “limbo time.”
I watched the news coverage on the television in my hotel room. I was watching CNN News when the first tower started to collapse. I watch in horror as the tower fell. I had a lump in my throat and tears came to my eyes. I have not cried since my childhood. After the second tower came down, I shed tears and prayed for the first responders who were attempting to rescue people from the towers. I also prayed for those who were trapped in the upper floors and perished when the towers fell. I called my wife at around 11 p.m. and finally got through to her. We both glad to hear each other’s voices. My wife and I talked for at least an hour – sharing our thoughts and discussing how our daughter was responding to what happened. We both decided to reassure our daughter that everything would be alright and that she was safe – we would keep her safe.
I stayed glued to the television and news coverage of the tragic aftermath of the terrorist attack on our nation for the next two days only stepping away when I went out to get lunch and dinner.
On September 14th I received a phone call and was told to report to the Mine Warfare Center. After passing through the high security at the gate, I reported to the Mine Warfare Center. I was informed that my classmates and I were going to be graduated and released to duty. I was informed to contact the Naval Reserve and Marine Corps Reserve Center, Corpus Christ to ascertain if I was to be released from active-duty or was expected to report to duty at my gaining command. I called the Reserve Center and was informed that I was to have the Mine Warfare Center endorse my orders and release me back reserve status. Once that was done, I returned to my hotel to change out of my CNT uniform into civilian clothing, check out of the hotel and make the 2 and half hour drive home to Austin, Texas.
After checking out of the hotel where the front desk staff wished me luck and said to be safe (they knew I was in the Navy), I gassed up my care and started the drive home. As I drove past the Corpus Christi International Airport, I noticed that there were quite a number of airliners parked on the tarmac and at the jet-ways of the terminal. I noticed that there were absolutely on aircraft other than an occasional Navy aircraft in the skies. I listened to Fox News and CNN News on my XM Radio as I made the drive home. The drive was one of the “longest” drives I ever made. I saw no civilian aircraft or airlines in the skies. I saw an occasional military aircraft as I approached San Antonio and some Army helicopters as I entered Austin city limits.
Prior to leaving, I called my wife to let her know that I was coming home (she was also a Navy Reservist and was worried about whether I would be released from active duty). I then called my executive director to let him know that I had been released from active-duty and would be in the office on the following Monday. My executive director, who was a decorated Vietnam veteran, was glad to hear that I would be back at the office on Monday.
I arrived home shortly after my wife had returned from work. Both my daughter, wife, and mother (she lived with us at the time) greeted me when I entered our house. They were all very happy to see me and I them. I continued to watch news coverage of the rescue efforts throughout the weekend and returned to my civilian job on Monday.
I later learned from my mother that one of my sister’s college classmates had perished when Tower One collapsed (my sister is almost 10 years younger than me). My sister had been informed by her friend’s husband that she did not get out of the tower before it collapsed. My mother reminded me that I had meet her several times. That was a sad moment as I recalled her as being a lovely, vibrant, and very smart young lady. Upon returning to work, I learned that several employees of one of my association’s associate members had died in Tower Two when the second plane slammed into the tower. I was told that several of them routinely attended our annual property and casualty insurance symposium. More sad and tragic news. A lot to take in over a period of a few days.
When I shared my experience at the Mine Warfare Center with friends and a World War II veteran I knew (Bill Glass who is sadly no longer with us), they all listened intently. Bill Glass said that you kind of know what it was like for those of us on active-duty on December 7, 1941 and subsequent days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We both shared that we felt angry and a bit helpless as we wanted to do something to strike back but could not. I learned later that one of my classmates from the Naval Justice School, a Legalman First Class, was called to active-duty a few days after the attacks. She left a large Chicago law firm where she was the Law Office Manager and deployed to Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain where I would serve a month on active-duty with her two years later. I one month tour of duty at NSA Bahrain occurred shortly after Operation Iraqi Freedom began. That is another unique experience I shall never forget. I was never called to active-duty to serve in the Global War on Terrorism. I would have gladly served had I been called upon. There was, however, no opportunity for me to do so other than as a reservist.
I shall never forget the events and my experiences on September 11, 2001 as long as I live. It was my “where were you at when…” moment. Those experiences and my subsequent active duty tours shaped who I am today. I shall always remember the heroes and victims who perished on September 11th. I make a point to watch the annual 911 observance and remember those who lost their lives on that fateful day and during the resulting Global War on Terrorism.
I lost an acquaintance in the war – CW5 Sharon Swartworth. CW5 Swartworth gave her life for our country when a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was shot down Nov. 7, 2003, in Tikrit, Iraq. I became acquainted with CW5 Swartworth, who was the chief warrant officer of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, as I contemplated applying for appointment as a warrant officer one legal administrator in the U.S. Army Reserves. She joined the ranks of other heroes who have previously and would later lay down their lives for nation during the Global War on Terrorism.
I retired from the Navy in 2006. I shall be forever proud of my many shipmates, the soldiers, Marines and airmen who have gone into harm’s way as they have fought the Global War on Terrorism. It is important that Americans never forget about the events of September 11, 2001. It is equally important that they not forget those who lost their live on that tragic day and during the on-going Global War on Terrorism. I have no doubt that the United States and our many Allies will win the Global War on Terrorism when all is said and done. I have no doubt that Americans will never forget the events of September 11, 2001.
Steven W. Nichols, Legalman First Class, U.S. Navy Retired
For me, as for many of us, the morning of September 11, 2001 started off like any other. It was a beautiful day in St. Charles, Missouri. My wife & I had one young son & one on the way. An Army guy, I was a traditional National Guardsman and a small business owner with about 1,000 things going on at any given time.
I was in the process of taking my son to daycare when I first heard news of the attack. As I started the car & turned on the radio, it was the only news on every station. The second plane had already made impact by the time I tuned in. I recall that news reports were relaying some concern over a few other commercial airliners that weren’t communicating with air traffic control, with the talk of scrambling military fighter jets. I prayed that those pilots wouldn’t be placed in the position of having to shoot down a commercial airliner.
I hadn’t left the driveway yet, and I looked in the rearview mirror at my young son, sitting in his car seat. I remember having that sinking feeling that so much of our world had just forever changed. I knew our military world had just changed, too, but I doubt anyone could have predicted how much. As a member of a Field Artillery battalion’s operations staff, there were exercises in the coming training year that I was helping to prepare for, and the artilleryman in me knew we were going to have to ‘adjust fire’ regarding our yearly training plan. I figured that our combat arms unit, part of the Missouri Army National Guard, would deploy…it was just a matter of time.
And deploy we did, just like the rest of the Active and Reserve Components. We deployed more than once, and to various parts of the world. I was already a combat Vet – I deployed with the 1st Infantry Division to Operation Desert Storm a decade earlier, while on active duty – but I didn’t have a young family back then. Sitting in that driveway, looking at my young son & thinking of the one we had on the way, I was worried for their safety & the world they were going to grow up in.
Fast forward to 2017. I hung up the uniform for good last summer, and a bittersweet day it was. I imagine the events of 9/11 – and the subsequent training, unique duty positions, and deployments – altered what would have been a shorter military career. Like many of my colleagues, I’ve missed years of family time. I’ve lost Brothers & Sisters to combat and to suicide. I’ve forged some incredible friendships and witnessed some awesome things through a multinational lens. These 17 years have come and gone with blinding speed, and it seems like the next time I turn around, it will be the 25th or 50th anniversary of that fateful day. But I know, beyond all doubt, that we will never forget…
-Alan Rohlfing, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army (Retired)
In March 1999, after my promotion to Captain, my husband and I decided to embark on a new adventure with our daughter who was 4 and son who was 9 months old, and I applied to go from an Army Reservist to an Active Duty Soldier. On 8 September 2001, I received orders for Active Duty in an Active Guard/Reserve status and was to report to 99th Regional Support Command in Oakdale, Pennsylvania on 10 October 2001. This was an exciting time for us as we planned and began the chaotic preparation for our first military move.
I had just called my mother to wish her a Happy Birthday and after dropping my daughter off at school, I was driving to my civilian job as a Graphic Designer when, on the car radio, I heard the tragic news that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers. With son in tow, I arrived at work and they all were gathered around the television. I sat and held my son tightly and sobbed with my co-workers as the devastation unfolded. I remember the fear that overcame me as I called my husband and my daughter’s daycare to make sure they were safe. The phone calls were endless to family and friends.
As the next few days unfolded and security measures heightened, I remember the logistical dilemmas and how I was feeling that the weight of our first military move and adventure had just changed forever. I remember that airports and military installations were filled with extra security as I traveled to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin for training. There was so much to do to prepare for our move, yet our nation was under attack and I was miles away from my family. But duty calls. With the security issues and the uncertainty whether flying was “unsafe”, I chose to drive to both my training and to Oakdale, Pennsylvania while my husband stayed with the children in South Dakota and took care of selling the house and packing for the movers. On my first day of active duty, I remember the urgency to ensure Soldiers were ready to deploy and the high OPTEMPO, with talk of war and how to protect our nation from any terrorist threats that may still be coming.
My orders read “Active Duty Commitment: 3 years.” Who would have thought that 17 years later that I would still be serving this great nation and supporting those still fighting for peace, security and stability against terrorism and other adversaries? There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember September 2001 and how it impacted my life forever. NEVER FORGET.
-Lieutenant Colonel Rhonda McCulley, US Army Reserve
Needless to say, the impact on that day changed my life forever. Gone was the belief that our country’s borders were safe from foreign attack. Gone was the security blanket and the innocence of an entire generation of people that never knew what it was like to enjoy that security and feelings of protection. If we had only known 11 months prior to 9/11 when the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen, we might have seen this coming. My last deployment was on the Amphibious Assault ship, USS Tarawa. After I separated in October 1998, the USS Tarawa was first on the scene two years later when the USS Cole was nearly sunk pier-side. The Chief who had worked for me had volunteered to be one of the first responders on the USS Cole. What he shared with me made me very mad. That attack occurred nearly one year prior to 9/11 and I believe it was a test to see how we would respond.
On September 11, 2001 I had been out of active service of the USN for about 3 years and had started my new career as a financial advisor in Kansas City. On that day, I was readying for work when my wife yelled upstairs for me to turn on the TV. I, along with millions of others, watched as the first of the twin towers was burning. As a former Naval Aviator I was well aware of instrument and VFR flight paths. As I was trying to reconcile how an aircraft could possibly have an accident with a building, the other plane appeared on the screen. About the time I yelled down to my wife that the plane shouldn’t be there, it hit the second trade center. For the next hour, I watched the terrorists successfully complete their mission into the Pentagon but fall short in a Pennsylvania field.
It was but two hours later that I received a chilling call from a former flight school Marine Corps roommate who was flying for Delta Airlines. He told me one of our friends, a former Marine C-130 aviator, was the co-pilot of the United Airlines flight that hit the second tower. Another one of my former roommates was in the air over the Midwest when the WTC was attacked and he was ordered to land at Kansas City International Airport.
My children, now adults, know these stories…I tell them again and again so they will never forget. They also know I fly my flag at my home daily. And they know when to put it up or take it down if I cannot. God bless the souls we lost that day, the families left behind, and all the first responders who didn’t make it back home that day. Never Forget!
-Kirby W. Bock, Lieutenant, US Navy
I was not in the military on 9/11. I had ETS’d out of the Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Fighter Wing and I was working as a refueler at Lambert Airport in St. Louis. On the night before the attack, I worked late into the night and awoke only after the planes hit the towers. When I went to see the manager of my apartment building to pay rent, she said ‘I guess you won’t be going to work today’…when I asked her ‘why?’, she mentioned planes had hit the towers and they had fallen. All I could say was ‘BS’, but then she then had me watch the news…
Because of what happened I got back into the Service with the 131st Fighter Wing. I eventually became a full-time Technician with the Air National Guard, retiring as a TSgt in 2012 with 26 years of service between the Army and Air Guard. I now work as the Operations Manager at the USO of Missouri, giving back to the military and serving our brave men and women on the front line.
-Cary Warner, Technical Sergeant, US Air Force (Retired)
I was on Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, DC….waiting to turn into the US Naval Observatory. Traffic was heavy, and I was a few minutes late. I heard the announcement on the radio, and 20 minutes later, the USNO was locked down tight and Secret Service had formed a perimeter around the facility, as it was the home of the Vice President of the United States. When I was finally cleared to leave the compound, I marveled at the complete ghost town Washington had become.
I stopped on the parkway to view the Pentagon across the Potomac River, and as it burned, I realized how fragile things can really be. A Metro Police Officer pulled up behind me and ordered me to move along. My commute home, normally an hour and 15 minutes……took 35 minutes. I was very thankful to be home with my kids and know they were safe and sound.
-Dale Monteer, Senior Chief, US Navy (Retired)
On September 11th, 2001, I was a Captain of Armor in the Illinois National Guard’s 66th Brigade. I served as a traditional National Guard soldier, drilling part-time as I’d done for 8 years during college and after active duty. After 12 years in the U.S. Army, I’d considered strongly the idea of separating from service. After that terrible day, there was no way I would leave before serving until retirement or on a deployment that could bring justice to the terrorists who hurt our American family.
At 7:45 local St. Louis time, I heard of the first plane crashing into the North Tower and it took a little less than a minute to imagine the worst. By the time I made it to the gas station, where they played the news each morning, the second plane had just hit the South Tower. The attendant said, “That’s weird”. I responded, “No, that’s war”.
Continuing my drive to work, my heart sank as my neighbors in cars around me were bawling. I was very angry and praying for those workers in the towers. That day at work we did nothing but watch the news. By noon, we went home. I watched the news all that day with my family. Around dinner, I called my Grandmother to ask her what would my grandfather have done today. On December 8th, 1941 he made his way to the recruiter and was made a Coast Guard Medic soon after. It was 6 years before he returned home for good. Grandma told me to be careful but she understood my desire to re-enter active duty that day.
I called a friend of mine in the Armor branch who managed the assignments of young Captains. He told me to stand fast, that we in the National Guard would be going soon enough. I followed his advice and deployed for the first of two times 4 months later. A horrible and fateful day that should have never happened!
– Mark C. Lear, Major, US Army (Retired)
The morning of September 11, 2001 will forever be remembered by a generation of Americans as their defining moment. Just as earlier generations remembered where they were when JFK was assassinated, or when Pearl Harbor was attacked, my generation will remember where we were on the day that al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger airliners and crashed, two planes into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 2,977 people.
I am from the West Coast, and I must admit, the attacks didn’t directly involve or affect me the way that it did my countrymen in Manhattan, or in the nation’s capital. But without experiencing the horror firsthand, I sympathized with those who did. My heart was with them, and my prayers were for them– as it was with all Americans.
Like the Japanese had done decades earlier, al-Qaeda had stirred the hornet’s nest and awoken, not a ‘sleeping giant,’ but the spirit of American patriotism.
My generation will remember the attacks of September 11, 2001 as the event that sparked what will be more than thirteen years of war. Millions of Americans would enlist in the United States Military, serve and deploy in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Participation in these wars changed millions of American families forever.
Many people don’t associate the sacrifices, wounds and losses in war to the events of that day, thirteen years ago. But America is the way that it is today because of the events of September 11, 2001.
I would like to use the USS New York (LPD-21) as an example of the change. The USS New York was named for the city that was targeted by al-Qaeda, and was intentionally built using steel salvaged from the World Trade Center, destroyed in the attacks.
The USS New York represents American resiliency and courage to rebuild. Using the destroyed remnants of the World Trade Center, once a crowning achievement of American greatness, the USS New York now rules the seas, as part of the “World’s Finest Navy” and is currently on her second deployment to the Persian Gulf.
Starting in 2002, each September 11th is to be observed as Patriot Day. While not a federal holiday, Patriot Day, by presidential decree, calls for the American flag to be flown at half-staff. The holiday also calls for a moment of silence to be observed at 8:46 EDT to correspond with the time that the first plane struck the World Trade Center.
Military Connection would like to encourage all Americans to further observe Patriot Day by wearing patriot attire, and by sharing with your friends, family and co-workers the story of where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001 and how it has affected your life today.
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Military Connection: Sept. 11 is Patriot Day: By Joe Silva