Remembering 9/11 from the Pentagon

I remember the morning of the attack like it was yesterday. One of my colleagues shared with us that a small aircraft had just struck the World Trade Center. Having assumed it was a small private plane, we made a few remarks and went about our business.  It was not long before we were told that a second aircraft had struck the other tower.  We immediately recognized this as a probable deliberate attack.  We watched the CNN coverage in horror.
I went downstairs to buy a bottle of water when I heard the distinct sound of a low flying large jet, followed by the rumble of a large explosion.  Close by the building exit, I saw the rising mushroom cloud rising from the Pentagon.  It was less than a-quarter-of-a-mile, so I took off in a full sprint towards the impact area.  Employees were exiting the building. Many were partially burned, or had obvious injuries. 
I assisted one woman, who for some reason I particularly remember, away from building to safety.  She was partially burned and in shock.  She indicated that she wanted to return to her office and retrieve her purse and car keys.  A number of us shepherded injured and wounded to a safe distance from the ever-increasing fire fueled by the aircraft fuel. 
It was not long before the fire department arrived, followed by the FBI, and other agencies.  A few of us Marines spent three days on the search and recovery teams carrying the deceased from their collapsed office spaces.  On Sept. 13, as we exited the Pentagon with the remains of one of the victims, we were met by President George W. Bush who shook each one of our hands.  I remember the pain in his eyes, and sensed his strength of leadership in what has to have been an extremely difficult position. 
I have not had trouble making sense of that day, particularly after my tour in Fallujah, Iraq.  I participated in Operation Phantom Fury, or Al Fajr, where it became apparent how brutal Al Qaeda terrorists can be, to not only Americans, but to innocent Iraqi civilians as well.  There are evil people in this world who embrace extreme violence to anyone who oppose their radical views. 
I would say that the United States has certainly changed in order to ensure that it is reasonably secure against Sept. 11-type threats.  I am proud to be a citizen of a strong democratic country that sets the example of peaceful government for others to emulate.

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