Back to work at the Pentagon – Potomac News Online

ARLINGTON – When he sees the photographs of the smoking wreckage left by the hijacked airliner that smashed into the Pentagon last Sept. 11, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tom James can easily pick out the window where he was sitting that morning.

“Three windows up, two windows to the right of the collapsed area,” he said.

James, 33, escaped unharmed. It was just his third day on the job in the office of Vice Admiral John Totistiek, commander of the U.S. Naval Reserve. Three other people in the office that day got out, too. About three weeks go, they moved back in, their workspace repaired and refurbished.

But for much of the past year, James has wondered about the fates. Why did he live when so many others died?

“Just an inch or two on the control stick, and it would have been different,” he said. “It is something I wrestle with. I know that people very close to where I was didn’t make it. You wonder if you could have done something more.

“It’s a very personal, very emotional experience that you deal with over the months. But it is very therapeutic to be back. There is a lot of pride involved. It’s a test of American willpower, and I’m very pleased to be part of it.”

James is among 3,000 Pentagon workers displaced by the terrorist attack who will be back in their offices in time for its one-year anniversary.

Re-occupying the offices is seen as an important symbol of the country’s resolve to win the continuing war against global terrorism.

But many of those moving back in seem more consumed with unpacking their boxes, setting up their desks and getting back to the nitty-gritty of performing their mission.

Diedre Koske, a secretary in the office of the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, was doing just that late last month, three days after moving into her new office. She is on the second floor, about 50 yards from where the jet struck.

“I’m just happy to be out of the temporary office,” she said. “I’m happy to be back. I know some people who say they will never again walk down the corridor where the jet struck. But it doesn’t bother me.”

She recalled that last Sept. 11, like many other Pentagon workers, she was watching television coverage of the attack on the World Trade Center when she heard the explosion. She thought it was a bomb. She quickly exited the building and headed for a Metro bus. She didn’t care where it was going, as long as it was away from the Pentagon.

“But it couldn’t get anywhere,” she said. “The roads were gridlocked. The whole area was blocked off.”

When she returned to get her car, she got her first glimpse of the devastation.

“I saw the smoke and the fire,” she said. “I was floored.”

James was floored, too – literally. Just a few feet from the edge of the impact area, he was knocked off his feet, ceiling tiles and debris raining down on him.

“We were looking at what happened at the World Trade Center, and we knew it wasn’t an accident,” he said. “A buddy called me up and said, ‘You guys might be next.’ I had just hung up the phone when we were hit. The next thing you know, I was on the floor. Things here falling on top of me. But I was OK. I stood up, and that’s when the fireball exploded. It was a big, huge, orange ball of fire.”

He is convinced that Kevlar-reinforced walls, installed as part of the renovation, saved him. In the days following the attack, he called the managers of the renovation project to thank them for their foresight.

His office is nearly identical to the one he was forced to evacuate last year.

“It seems almost like it happened yesterday,” he said. “It’s a strange feeling. But that’s overcome by the fact we are moving back in.”

Contact Paul Bradley at (703) 548-8758 or [email protected]

Similar Posts