On 9/11/2001, I was in the Pentagon’s conference room 2E487 on the E Ring. At 9:37:46 a.m., American Flight 77, a Boeing 757 Jetliner loaded down with jet fuel and many great Americans and flown by madmen, crashed 50 feet to the left of our conference room. Flying at 530 miles per hour, it took only 8/10 of one second to fully penetrate 310 feet through the three outermost rings of the Pentagon. The E ring was mostly destroyed immediately, and a large section of all five floors would collapse within about one hour. We were instantly inside a fireball, a 250,000-pound inferno on “top of our position” that rose over 200 feet above the Pentagon. A humongous fireball blew right through our room, inches above our heads. Walls down, ceiling down, floor split, fires everywhere, very intense heat on top of us, and heavy black toxic smoke pouring in to fill our lungs.
Ambushed, and scores of people were in very serious trouble. A recipe for total disaster. People injured, people dying. Heroes everywhere.
Some of us escaped the 125-ton inferno. We fought our way out with our bare hands and quick minds. It is a harrowing tale of pain, agony and tremendous courage by many great Americans. Later on that fateful day my wife, Silvia, was finally contacted at about 2:30 p.m., and in complete shock, she immediately went to the elementary school to pick up our three children.
There were 189 souls that perished all around us that day. Loads injured. Heroes everywhere.
We were among the first casualties in the War on Terror, and unfortunately for many of us, we will remain casualties for the rest of our lives, along with our families.
Unbelievably, one month later, I was the Casuality Assistance Officer for Cheryle Sincock, wife of CW5 Craig Sincock, who was in my section in the 18,000 person Pentagon. She was across the hall from me in room 2E486 on 9/11 and perished in the attack, along with the other person in the room.
Her husband would not leave the Pentagon for several weeks as he was searching non-stop for Cheryle. It was not until my boss, COL Larry Thomas, called their son, an Army officer, to come to D.C. to take his dad home that Craig finally went home. Cheryle had 12 brothers and sisters and four children and many grandchildren who attended her funeral. Taking care of Cheryle’s burial and escorting her family around the Washington D.C. areas for almost a week was the most important job I did in my 24 year Army career. COL Thomas, Craig Sincock, and I were the only soldiers assigned to the Army CIO/G6 affected by the Pentagon attack, as our offices were located across the Pentagon from the attack.
After escaping near death on 9/11, I developed a ground zero illness in 2002, just like people in New York City. The symptoms were small at first, and the exact nature of my illness went undiagnosed until January 2009. The disease is very hard to diagnose and is done so by process of elimination of other diseases and illnesses. The illness took a dramatic turn for the worse in August 2008, which led to a humongous lesion in my brain stem, cerebellum and cranial nerves and lesions in both lungs.
Unbelievably, I had brain surgery on 9/11/08 instead of attending the 9/11 Dedication at the Pentagon. Pathology from my brain went first to Walter Reed, then to the National Institute of Health, then to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, all three coming back inconclusive.
Meanwhile, I was hustled through at least 13 different specialties and clinics at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Navy Hospital, the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and three more hospitals. All to try and determine what disease or illness I had.
Being a “test” case, and with Walter Reed being a teaching hospital, I volunteered to let medical students and researchers tag along with my doctors. Needless to say, it was a large group of doctors and prospective doctors tending to me.
Not only is the illness somewhat rare, it usually attacks a different demographic and in a different way and almost never does it rush to your brain stem, the “mother board.” Lucky me. Thanks “toxic smoke” and the thick “sandpaper, glass shard, building materials, jet fuel,” chemical attack, etc., for affecting my lungs, airways, and other parts of my body. Support groups for this rare illness, attacking in a rare way — me, my wife, my children, and God.
Long term effects way down the road? Not good. I hope I’ll someday be ready with my “game suit” on.
I had many very tragic medical issues in additional to the “enemy invading my brain.” I was on a feeding tube for 16 months, lost much of my lung capacity for a while and didn’t get any appreciable sleep for two years. I lost 50 pounds and got so weak my wife had to shower me, shave me and take me to the bathroom, and my liver was failing. My body temperature randomly fluctuated between 93 and 101 degrees, and I either “froze” or “overheated.” I could hardly swallow my own spit, which led to “waterboarding” torture sensations. When my liver was failing, my skin itched like bugs were crawling under it — for 30 days straight non-stop.
I had other problems too embarrassing to even talk about. I received medicines with side effects almost as bad as the illness. I lost most hearing in my right ear, lost partial sight in my right eye and had vestibular and balance problems. Plus much more.
I also had severe cognitive issues where I couldn’t even answer basic questions correctly.
I endured enough pain and agony for 10 lifetimes. I hope I get to live one lifetime.
It was like a Russian gulag torture chamber.
I couldn’t take care of myself in any fashion. My wife, Silvia, lived my life for me, while my kids grew up alone as she tended to me.
I fought for every inch, every battle, every day of my life for two years. It was a severe Ground Zero Illness versus the human spirit. After a long struggle, the human spirit won!
The 9/11 attack, and then the tragic two year ground zero illness and struggle to survive, followed by a one year relapse —Halloween night brain MRI at Walter Reed to diagnose relapse, symbolic? — was tremendously stressful and took a huge toll on my family. We will never be quite the same.
God bless America, our citizens, our brave service members and our veterans, all part of our cherished nation, the United States of America, where the great American dream happens on a daily basis. Carry on my friends, carry on. This is the USA.
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) U.S. Army
Westfield Class of ‘79