Marine recalls firsthand account of 9/11 attack on Pentagon
CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan -- “The Marine got off the phone and made an announcement to the entire section telling us that there was an accident,” said 1st Sgt. Maurice L. Bease. “An airplane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. The office was in disbelief.”
Not long after the first phone call, another Marine received a call that would shed grim light on the situation.
“I woke up that morning just like any other morning, thinking it was a normal day,” said Bease, 37, the company first sergeant for Production and Analysis Company, 3rd Intelligence Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III MEF.
“I went in to work and began my daily duties as usual,” said Bease, who at the time was a 22-year-old sergeant, and the Headquarters Marine Corps flight scheduler with the Aviation Support Manpower section at the Pentagon. “I remember one of the Marines in my section was on the phone with someone from the Joint Operation Support Airlift Center.”
The section Bease worked with coordinated airlifts and flights for the national capital region.
Soon after the Marine got off the phone and told everyone the news about the plane crash, the phone rang again. After that Marine got off the phone, he told everyone the plane crashes in New York City were not accidents, but terrorists, according to Bease, from Baltimore, Maryland.
The office came to a halt upon hearing the news. Everyone was in total shock, according to Bease.
“It was a lot to take in as a young sergeant, so I asked my boss if I could step outside for some fresh air,” said Bease.
Little did he know this tragic event that already hit home, would hit even closer.
“As I was standing outside I began talking with one of the contract movers about the plane crashes in New York when I heard what sounded like the roar of jet engines,” recalled Bease. “At first I thought maybe there was a flyover at Arlington National Cemetery. Working in aviation, we usually hear when those are scheduled, and we hadn’t heard anything.”
In an instant, the nightmare that had taken the nation by surprise would become even more real for Bease.
“As the noise got louder, I began looking around trying to figure out where it was coming from,” said Bease. “I turned around and caught a glimpse of a white aircraft coming straight at the Pentagon.
“Because of the direction the aircraft was coming from, it looked like it was coming straight at me,” continued Bease. “I dropped to the ground and lost sight of it. Moments later, I heard and felt the aircraft impact the side of the building.”
At approximately 8:20 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757 with 58 passengers and six crew members, departed from Washington-Dulles International Airport for Los Angeles International Airport. Five hijackers were aboard.
Approximately 30 minutes after took off, the flight was hijacked. Five minutes later, the flight deviated from its assigned course and headed east toward Washington, D.C. At 9:37 a.m., Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the Pentagon.
In only a few moments, the Pentagon was engulfed in an atmosphere that, according to Bease, could only be compared to combat.
“When most Marines go into combat for the first time, they experience a feeling that is indescribable,” said Bease. “It was that same feeling of uncertainty. No one knew what was really happening. No one knew what was going to happen next. All anyone could do was wait and see what would happen to us.”
A large cloud of smoke began to rise from the building. Without a second thought, Bease rushed back inside the burning building to notify everyone he could and to help them evacuate, according to Bease.
“Everybody was doing anything they could to make sure that those around them were OK and were going to come through,” continued Bease.
As they hurried out of the building, they headed across the street to the Pentagon City Mall where they got accountability for everyone in the section.
“After we got accountability, some of us went back, helped set up staging areas for triage points, and helped others evacuate the building,” said Bease. “It was hectic to see that kind of chaos!”
Thinking back on the disaster, Bease noticed something that would hold a place in his mind for years to come.
“I always think back to how united everyone was at that moment,” said Bease. “I saw people of all different religious, ethnic, economic and service backgrounds just forget about all that and come together to help one another. It was truly inspirational to see this happen on that day.
“Surviving this attack has made me truly appreciate life and all the blessings that I have,” added Bease. “Waking up that morning and not really thinking anything special about that day and realizing how close so many others and myself came to not being on this Earth anymore has really made me cherish every single day that I am allowed to live. I try to live my life to the fullest extent and not waste a day.”