Worker Remembers 9/11 in Her Own Way
Fred W. Baker III
Irwin says she can tell those who were at the Pentagon the
flew a commercial jet into its walls. They
are the ones who, while standing in its open center courtyard,
will look up at a passing commercial jet and pray it continues
one of thousands here who will commemorate the terrorist attacks
tomorrow in their own way. She will not be at her desk.
In an ironic
twist of fate, her best friend happened to be at the World
Trade Center plaza that same morning. So, on the day’s
anniversary every year, the two take leave from their jobs
and travel together.
people don’t understand, but it is a way for me to honor
those who died in my own way,” Irwin said.
six years that have passed since the attacks on the United
States, Irwin gets emotional quickly when talking about the
day that 184 people died here. One-hundred twenty-four servicemembers
and civilians who where in the Pentagon died with 59 passengers
on the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77.
In her second-floor
office near the E ring, just off of the fifth corridor, Irwin
said she felt her chair rock slightly when the plane struck
the Pentagon between the fourth and fifth corridors.
the word the building was being evacuated, Irwin shot out a
quick e-mail to her siblings to let them know what was happening. “Evacuating
the building. Will call you later,” it read in the subject
line. There was no text in the body of the e-mail.
joined the thousands of others who were being directed out
of the building.
her house keys.
no cell phone networks available that morning. Irwin was finally
able to call from a pay phone after borrowing change from a
and sister thought she was dead for four hours that day, Irwin
A lot of
employees didn’t return to the Pentagon for the next
several days. Only about half of the building’s roughly
25,000-member work force returned that week. Corridors 2 through
6 were cordoned off as fires were extinguished, bodies were
recovered and structural inspections were conducted.
leaving that day though, Irwin’s job in press operations
for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public
Affairs was just heating up. As the world turned its eyes to
the worst terrorist attacks on American soil, managing the
flow of information to the media was at its most critical point
in the building’s 60-year history.
many others worked long hours through the next several weeks,
she said. Roads were closed. Parking was crazy. Because flights
were stopped at nearby Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport,
officials there agreed to allow Pentagon employees access to
was a “phenomenal feeling of camaraderie,” Irwin
was allowed only one day off weekly for several weeks. Twelve-hour
days or longer were standard. Employees in the press office
would bring in electric skillets and cook pancakes and eggs.
people complained about the long hours and days, Irwin said.
knew the situation was bad. We just kept working through it,” she