America's Resolve: 9/11 Attack on the Pentagon

9/11 at the Pentagon: A Firsthand Account

At the Pentagon after the 9/11 attack, Brig. Gen. Henry L. Huntley helped rescue personnel and was injured in the process.

 

Brig. Gen. Henry L. Huntley will never forget the day that changed the world.

“I was wide-eyed and amazed that I was really in the Pentagon,” he says. “It’s a national treasure, the nerve center of so much that happens in this country, and it was an honor just to be in that building.”

Then, a shattering event: A plane flew into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Televisions were on in every office; chatter subsided.

At that point, we thought it was one of those terrible mishaps that happen when a plane goes off course,” explains Huntley. But then the next plane appeared. “Once it made that slow and deliberate turn and gunned its engine, everyone knew.” At 9:03 a.m., the second plane hit the Trade Center’s South Tower.

The Right Directions Saved Him

Huntley headed to the Army Operations Center to see what he could do to help. A colleague stopped him, telling him he was headed the wrong way. He believes that bit of advice probably saved his life. “It wasn’t until a day or so later that I learned that if I hadn’t turned around and gone the other direction, I would have been right in the section where the plane hit.”

Just as Huntley stepped into the door of the AOC, he felt the first jolt. “The building shook, alarms went off, and there was a terrible explosion in the building.”

Another Plane Hits Its Target

American Airlines Flight 77, hijacked shortly after takeoff, crashed into the western side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., igniting a towering fireball and collapsing part of the building.

Huntley and others moved to the Pentagon’s grassy central courtyard. As great plumes of smoke arose from the damaged building, Huntley was stopped by a young airman struggling with a heavy trunk filled with medical supplies. “Sir,” he said, “can you help me?”

Together, they lifted the trunk and carried it to a makeshift clinic. “It was almost too heavy for two men to lift under normal circumstances,” says Huntley, “but we held it easily over our heads and got it where it needed to be. All of us were operating on adrenaline that day.”

He and others began passing out medical supplies. “Your first instinct in a situation like that is to try to help,” he says. Huntley and others repeatedly went back into the burning building looking for survivors.

A People United

For Huntley, the experiences at the Pentagon helped shape his approach to leadership.

“My philosophy has always been that you don’t get anything done by yourself, that you can’t get anything accomplished without a team,” he says. “That day the military and civilians worked together magnificently to take care of people. Even with the building still on fire, even with all the activities and commotion, never did I sense panic — almost like there was a calm in the air. Everyone was doing the right thing to help folks.”

Huntley worked at the Pentagon until 2003 and then returned for a second assignment in 2005. “I never walk into the building without thinking of that day,” he says. “Certain smells, certain sounds will always bring that day back — you never want to forget, and you never want other people to forget.”

He and others began passing out medical supplies. “Your first instinct in a situation like that is to try to help,” he says. Huntley and others repeatedly went back into the burning building looking for survivors.

Article Tags

Related Posts