9/11 Pentagon survivor on the ‘palpable reminders of death’

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9/11 Pentagon survivor on the 'palpable reminders of death'

Maj. Ryan Yantis was in the Pentagon watching the news on TV when he saw the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

“When the second one hit there was no doubt in my mind this was a deliberate terrorist attack on America,” said Yantis, who was a public affairs officer at the time.

Still, he had important business to attend to. Just before 9:30 a.m., Yantis left his office to escort a senior officer to a meeting held in another part of the building — but the senior officer could not recall where.

“We stopped in Corridor 4 and we got into a bit of a heated argument over where the meeting was going to be.” Eventually, they found the meeting in Corridor 7, and were eight minutes late when alarms started going off.

“The Pentagon had been attacked between Corridors 4 and 5.”

If Yantis and his colleague had gone straight to the meeting on time, “we both would’ve been right at the center of the impact and probably severely injured or killed.”

As he hurried to the crash, Yantis saw “a large roll of smoke that came around the corner, so I evacuated and went outside. The west face of the Pentagon was on fire.

American Airlines Flight 77 had flown straight into the building, killing 59 passengers and five hijackers.

Ryan Yantis poses for a portrait in front of the Wauconda Heroes of Freedom Memorial in Wauconda, IL on August 22, 2021.
Ryan Yantis, seen here at the Wauconda Heroes of Freedom Memorial in Wauconda, Ill., narrowly missed being in the crash zone at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Roger Kisby
A satellite image of the Pentagon shows extensive damage to the western side and interior rings of the multi-ringed building at 11:46 a.m. EDT September 12, 2001 in Arlington, Virginia.
Ryan Yantis was in the Pentagon watching the news when he saw the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
spaceimaging.com/Getty Images
first responders on scene following an attack at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 in Arlington, Virginia
First responders at the Pentagon after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building on Sept. 11, 2001.
Federal Bureau of Investigation via Getty Images
FBI agents, fire fighters, rescue workers and engineers work at the Pentagon crash site on September 14, 2001, where a high-jacked American Airlines flight slammed into the building on Sept. 11.
FBI agents, fire fighters, rescue workers and engineers work at the Pentagon crash site on Sept. 14, 2001.
Tech. Sgt. Cedric H. Rudisill/Department of Defense/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

“I saw that there were a couple of stretchers. I grabbed one and started … helping carry people out.”

For hours, the former Eagle Scout kept running back in and out to get medical supplies or bring injured people to the aid station. “There was smoke and soot and palpable reminders of death, devastation and ruin everywhere,” he said.

Yantis, who is now 60 and retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 2006, admits it took him years to think or talk about what happened that day. But one moment has always remained vivid in his mind.

Ryan Yantis points to the names of people who lost their lives at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001
Ryan Yantis points to the names of people who lost their lives at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Roger Kisby
Ryan Yantis touches a beam from one of the World Trade Towers
Ryan Yantis touches a beam from a World Trade Center tower.
Roger Kisby

“This little Navy officer walks over to me and she’s in a long sleeve black sweater, knee-length Navy uniform skirt, low heels. And she asked me for my T-shirt.”

Removing his uniform shirt, he peeled off his sweaty, smoke-drenched tee, assuming she would use it as a bandage.

“She thanked me, dunked it in a bucket of water and then pulled it over her long brown hair. I asked her if she was OK,” he said.

She told him yes: She was on a search-and-rescue mission. “She just didn’t want her hair to catch on fire,” he explained.

By late afternoon, Yantis was pulled back to his communications job, writing an announcement about the initial casualties. A final report calculated that at least 125 people working at the Pentagon were killed, including 55 military personnel.


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But the true sense of loss didn’t hit Yantis until he reported back to work the next day.

“I arrived at the Pentagon at 5 a.m. It’s still on fire. As I was crossing the south parking lot, it almost had an apocalyptic feel. [It’s a] huge parking lot [and] almost empty except for the handful of cars — and the realization comes over me that the people whose cars were here didn’t drive home for a reason.”

Workers remove debris at the Pentagon September 15, 2001
Workers remove debris at the Pentagon on Sept. 15, 2001.
Stephen J. Boitano/Getty Images
Ryan Yantis poses for a portrait in front of the Wauconda Heroes of Freedom Memorial in Wauconda, IL on August 22, 2021.
The true sense of loss from Sept. 11, 2001, didn’t hit Ryan Yantis until he reported back to work the next day and saw the cars that were still left in the Pentagon parking lot.
Roger Kisby

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