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Black Day at the Pentagon

Rear Adm. Bruce Engelhardt had a pensive look recalling events at the Pentagon last Sept. 11. Engelhardt knew several of the people who lost their lives in the early morning attack. - Photo by Rogerick Anas
Rear Adm. Bruce Engelhardt had a pensive look recalling events at the Pentagon last Sept. 11. Engelhardt knew several of the people who lost their lives in the early morning attack.
— image credit: Photo by Rogerick Anas

“I was in my office on the fifth floor with 11 of my co-workers. The airliner came in low — the blast was right under my office. It sounded like a sonic boom. We saw an orange flash, like napalm. Black smoke started filling the hallways, and we filed out....”

Adm. Bruce Engelhardt, now of Subase Bangor, was recalling a day in September last year at the Pentagon — a day to be remembered forever.

The same day, Sept. 11, 2001, two other hijacked airliners flew into the World Trade Center towers, and a fourth crashed in an empty field in Pennsylvania — killing all aboard but harming no one on the ground. The Trade towers collapsed, killing thousands both in the towers and on the ground.

One hundred and eighty-four died at the Pentagon.

“There were some real heros at the Pentagon that day,” said the admiral, who was then deputy director of submarine warfare. “They’re the ones I want this article to highlight. Those who lost their lives.”

Lives were saved that day, even though the airliner took out the first three floors and penetrated to the third of five rings at the Pentagon — between the fourth and fifth sections.

Many barely escaped, severely injured.

“Later, I was given the opportunity to speak at the memorial for those killed,” he said, adding that he was personally acquainted with some. “The attack on the Pentagon affected more than those who died ... it affected their families. It left widows with children.”

He said it was no surprise they were hit — news accounts had already alerted them about New York.

After the hit, “We moved our operations to an alternative site in Arlington, Va.,” he said, “and immediately started working on defensive measures.”

He did have a chance to see the damage from the parking lot before leaving the Pentagon.

He was appalled.

“We could smell the jet fuel,” Engelhardt said.

Since then he said he’s proud of the way the Navy and other branches of the military have responded. As for submarines specifically: “One-third of our attacks on enemy jets (during ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan) were from our submarines.”

Throughout the year, security at all bases — here and overseas — has been beefed up, he said.

What does he think of the war lasting this long?

“The president said this would be a long war,” he said. “I think the commander-in-chief is right.”

As the war has raged, the admiral, now commander of Submarine Group 9 at Subase Bangor and the senior submariner there, has noticed a strong resolve in civilians.

“What I’ve observed in the American people is a no-fear approach to this,” he said. “We are not going to let these people (the terrorists) make us afraid.”

As for another possible attack on the anniversary, today?

“I’m going to (go about my business) as I would on any other day,” he said. “I’m not afraid.”

The admiral said increases in security and the counter-attack on the terrorists in Afghan makes him feel secure there will be no commemorative “attack.” In any case, “We’re ready for whatever happens and whatever the president asks us to do.

“Morale is high,” he said.

As to recent discussions on attacking Iraq....

“Our focus is on the war against terrorism,” he said. “And terrorism is worldwide. It’s not just one country (Afghanistan).”

He said “The country has a great Navy and I’m real proud of it. I’m especially proud of our submariners.”

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