Reflections of 9/11/2001 by Nancy Thorner and Pentagon Survivor, Ryan Yantis, U.S. Army, Retired

September 10, 2011

With the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 so close at hand, all who were old enough to remember will recall where they were on that infamous day when al Qaeda terrorists created havoc, terror, and death on American soil using innocent men women and children as captives, in what became tombs of death in  cabins of four commercial airliners.

How vividly I remember the occasion.  The day before I had arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the start of a fourteen-day tour which also included the countries of Sweden and Norway.  Scheduled for 9/11/2001 was a trip to visit Tivoli Gardens which was but a short walk from our hotel.   As it happened, our gathering time at the hotel to visit Tivoli coincided with the impact of the first airliner into the North Tower of the World Trade Center back home.

Our hearts were heavy and filled with fear, away as we were from our beloved homeland, wondering what was happening back home,  What should have been a night of fun exploring all that Tivoli had to offer, instead became a night of doom and gloom.  All I could think of was when could I return to my hotel room to watch what was unfolding on CNN.

In that I was away from home during the tragic day of 9/11 and the following twelve days, I was only able to imagine what might be happening back home and how the senseless and brutal terrorists acts were affecting the psyches of the American people.

How well I remember a TIME magazine that one member of the tour group had managed to find and purchase.  It became an instant hit as it was passed around on the tour bus and read by all.  There was never a time during the next twelve days when all of us were not the eyes and ears for each another in our quest to learn all we could as we remained physically isolated from the site of the horror.

Returning to the present time on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, about a month ago a friend informed me of an event that was to take place on Thursday, September 8 at The Garlands Performing Arts Center in Barrington, IL, co-sponsored by the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce, the Government Affairs Council & Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington.

The title of the event, “Bagels, Politics & BIZ”, had as its subject matter, Pentagon Survivor Story: Lessons of 9/11 from Ryan Yantis.  Mr. Yantis, a retired U.S. Army officer, resides in Crystal Lake, IL.  He is the current executive of the Korean War National and was present for duty in the Pentagon during the attack and was subsequently decorated for his actions that day.  As an army spokesman, Ryan Yantis facilitated hundreds of interviews with Army survivors, family members and leaders leading up to the first anniversary of the attack.

There was no hesitation on my part in immediately signing up to attend the Barrington event.  It was what I yearned to hear, a first-hand account of one who had been directly involved in the attack against the Pentagon.

It does rankle me that there are some, including former Navy SEAL and Minnesota Governor and wrestler, Jesse Venturi, who still question whether the Pentagon was really hit by an airplane because evidence could not be shown in the thereafter of the engines or wings.

The tale that unfolded through Ryan Yantis’s slide presentation at The Garlands Performing Arts Center in Barrington was both dramatic and without question a credible account of the Pentagon’s targeted attack by terrorists on 9/11.

Lt. Ryan Yantis’s story was divided into three parts or mindsets:  Sept. 10, Sept. 11 and Sept 12.

Sept. 10:

The U.S. was the sole global superpower; the focus was on domestic and defense reform, there was political division over the election of G.W. Bush (He’s not my president.); we were peacefully ignorant and unaware; and business was good.

The terrorists were unable to  build a bomb big enough to create the type of havoc they desired to impose upon America because of their profound hatred toward this nation.

Instead, Al Queda was able to use this nation’s own doctrine against us by acting outside the preliminaries of our doctrine. Heretofore a hi-jacked plane was directed to another location to land and the passengers remained unharmed.  Negotiation was not part of this nation’s hi-jacking policy.

Sept. 11:

The time line for the attack on the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) began at 0814 when American Flight 11 was hi-jacked and ended 32 minutes later when Flight 11 impacted the North Tower at 0846.

The entire unbelievable and unimagined scenario of four hi-jacked commercial flights being used as bombs by terrorists to spread fear and panic across America, with the thought always present of whether more would follow, took less time than it would take to view a feature film.

As Ryan Yantis related, the FAA did an amazing job.  4,500 flights were ordered to land, and they did, without any further losses of life.

In describing the Pentagon, Yantis spoke of the massive defense facility as a self-contained city with 20,000 workers.  There are five floors above ground and a few below, 17 miles of corridors with 20,000 doors, all of which look alike.  As a spokesman for the army, his group within the Pentagon handled calls to answer questions about American soldiers and polices, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  Yantis’s office was located off Corridor 6 on the 2nd floor.

What follows is Ryan Yantis’s incredible story:

From his office in the outermost ring of the Pentagon, Lt. Yantis watched on TV as the second plane hit the World Trade Center a little after 9 a.m.  Initially Yantis perceived the crash of the first commercial airliner into the North Tower as no more than a fluke or a tragic mistake by the pilot, but not after he viewed the second commercial airliner ram into the  South Tower of the World Trade Center.  “We’re next,” Yantis thought.  After 18 years in the military, Ryan Yantis was certain that the U.S. was under attack and that terrorists were going after visible symbols of American success.  As such, the Pentagon was a known and despised symbol of America.

Lt. Yantis ordered a colleague of who was nine months pregnant to go home immediately.  Yantis stayed, but just before 9:30 a.m. he left his office for a meeting, only to find out 15 minutes later when he reached the meeting place that American Airlines Flight 77 had struck the Pentagon building a few hundred yards away from his office.

Quickly running back to his own office in the Pentagon, Ryan Yantis found that his pregnant colleague was gone but also that his office was empty.  What Yantis saw was smoke leaking through cracks in the ceiling created by the impact of the plane.  Still haunting Ryan Yantis is his initial action which followed.

Entering the hallway Yantis was met by a surging wall of smoke, but instead of remaining inside the Pentagon to possibly offer immediate help, Yantis ran the other way toward the exit.  Once outside Yantis made his way to where the plane had struck the Pentagon.  He witnessed the Pentagon in flames, people streaming from the building, and pieces of shiny metal — the remains of the plane’s fuselage — sprinkled on the ground.

For the next four hours Ryan Yantis helped bring the injured out of stretchers, then helped to set up a press conference in the Pentagon’s press briefing room at which Donald Rumsfeld spoke to assure the American people that the Pentagon was still standing.

In the meantime search and rescue teams were being formed with individuals taking the initiative upon themselves, something they weren’t ordered to do or had to do.

Ryan Yantis returned to his home in Virginia at 10:30 p.m. on 9/11, reeking of sweat and smoke.

The total dead in the Pentagon bombing:  59 died on American Flight 77; 125 in the Pentagon (70 civilians and 55 military – Yantis knew four); 106 were severely injured; and hundreds others were wounded.

Sept. 12th:

Ryan Yantis, awoke at 4:00 a.m. the next morning.  Upon reporting back to work at the Pentagon, he  found the Pentagon still burning.

What is not well known because of all the emphasis on New York City after 9/11 is the existence of “Camp Unity.”  Both citizens and corporations stepped forward from the very first day, and, for three months after the attack, brought food and other supplies to those who were trying to bring order to the chaotic and grim situation.  Tyson sent truckloads of food every other day.  Haynes supplied free underwear.

Mr. Yantis spoke of the unity that only lasted a few weeks.  He is still concerned that some still treat the terrorist acts of 9/11 as a law-enforcement issue.

Sept. 13th and beyond:

What were the lessons learned from 9/11?  According to Ryan Yantis, this world is a different place.  There will be hot and cold points along the way in our fight to hunt down terrorists who wish this nation harm, always remembering that law enforcement should not be employed as the way to deal with terrorists.

Ryan Yantis’s message to all as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was to Remember, Honor, Celebrate, and Support our Veterans.

In reflecting upon 9/11, there are many who say that too much is being made of 9/11.  After all, the incident happened ten long years ago during which time this nation has remained free of attacks on our soil.

American, however, still remains a bulls eye target for terrorists.  There should be no doubt in the minds of the American people given the announcement on Thursday, Sept. 8 that there is credible, but unconfirmed information that al Queda wants to strike either NYC or Washington, D.C. in and around the time of Sunday’s 9/11 anniversary.

This nation’s guard cannot be let down. Forgetting would be an acknowledgment that we as Americans have become so preoccupied with our own lives, that after ten long years without a successful attack on our soil, we have been lured into a false sense of security.

History does have a way of repeating itself.  As a nation we have made good strides in intelligence gathering, but the terrorists only have to be successful once in what may be a string of many failed attempts.

It can happen again.  Our vigil as a people and as a nation must continue unabated.


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