An intimate, almost minute-by-minute account of the emergency response to the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.
Prior to 9/11, the Pentagon’s iconic status easily exceeded that of the World Trade Center. Nevertheless, that date’s dramatic events in New York, particularly the unimaginable collapse of the towers, have since obscured the almost simultaneous assault on the very symbol of America’s armed forces, where, write the authors, “about two million square feet of office space—the equivalent of the entire Empire State Building—was [rendered] uninhabitable due to fire, smoke, and structural damage.” U.S. Army officer and firefighter Creed and U.S. News & World Report journalist Newman (co-author: Bury Us Upside Down: The Misty Pilots and the Secret Battle for the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 2006) remind us of the devastation wrought in Arlington and of the almost superhuman effort required to quell the resulting inferno. From the moment the hijackers flew Flight 77 into the building, killing 59 passengers and crew members and 125 people who worked there, the Pentagon was transformed into a war zone. Using the eyewitness testimony of dozens of people inside and outside the building (a helpful index to many of the recurring names precedes the narrative), the authors painstakingly reconstruct the sequence of events, focusing particularly on the initial 48 hours and the efforts of first-responders. Though a host of government agencies were involved, the authors highlight the firefighters, particularly the Arlington County Fire Department. For these men the Pentagon’s unique design and construction—memorably explicated in Steve Vogel’s The Pentagon: A History: The Untold Story of the Wartime Race to Build the Pentagon—And to Restore it Sixty Years Later, 2007—the intensity of the explosion and the persistent flames combined to produce a “career fire,” the professional challenge of a lifetime. Thoroughly, but never tediously, the authors demonstrate how the firefighters—despite private fears and worries, exhaustion, dehydration and smoke inhalation, multiple threats of renewed attack, competing priorities of law enforcement and various military and political exigencies—responded brilliantly to the horror.
A remarkable piece of journalism, and a service to history.