By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 11, 2007 - Six years ago, Army Chaplain (Col.) William Broome stared in disbelief as he ran toward a burning Pentagon from his Crystal City office to minister to those injured and the families of those who died. Now, he has returned to the Pentagon to lead the chaplaincy here as the Pentagon Chaplain, responsible for all the religious support in the building.
At the time of the attacks, Broome, was one of many displaced to other area office spaces because of renovations to the Pentagon. Had it been complete, he may have been one of the victims.
An avid motorcyclist, Broome rode in that day admiring the beauty of the morning. At the office, as the assignment officer for chaplains working for the Chief of Chaplains, he set about a routine of checking emails and returning phone calls. Broome's wife and daughter were scheduled to tour the Pentagon that day.
They first heard of the attacks in New York City, and turned on the office television.
"The thought that this was an act of terrorism never crossed my mind. I just prayed, feeling sorrow for the people trapped inside. Then in helpless bewilderment and revulsion, we watched the second jet crashed into the second tower. We knew immediately that this must be terrorism," he later wrote for a chaplain's magazine.
Minutes later news flashed across the screen that the Pentagon had been hit by a jet. Knowing his services would be needed, Broome took off toward the crash site with a handful of fellow chaplains.
"We ran most of the way and were going against the crowd as most were leaving and evacuating the building. We were stopped by security and secret service, but explained that as chaplains we needed to be there to minister to the crowds," Broome said.
The chaplain called the scene "surreal" and said it was hard to comprehend an attack on the Pentagon.
"As we turned the corner to the crash site, we saw the wreckage of the plane, clothes, and such all over the place – flames coming out of the building, people running, some standing, some crying, most trying to help. We got there just as the wall collapsed, which caused a loud cry to go out in the crowd," he said.
Broome joined a group that tried to reenter the building with firemen, but the flames prevented their entrance. He said the feeling of helplessness was "truly demoralizing."
That day was the first of many that Broome and a team of chaplains would work long into the night working with families.
A Joint Family Assistance Center was set up at a hotel for the families of the victims. Representatives helped families with legal, medical, financial and spiritual matters. Six chaplains from the different services worked days and three chaplains worked nights. Rooms were set aside for families to sit and talk with chaplains.
Notifying the families was especially difficult.
"Because it took so long to identify all the bodies, we did some notifications months later and these were just as emotional as the ones done right away," he said.
The chaplain said it was difficult for him that day to come to grips with the fact that "we had been attacked at home, in America," and said the attacks serve as a reminder that there is a price for freedom.
"This told us that there was no safe place in this world when it comes to terrorism," Broome said. "I think we all need to remember that true freedom and democracy always comes at a price and that there are those in our world who do not believe in freedom or in individual rights. Therefore, we will continue to fight for these rights for years to come."
Broome said he still rides his motorcycle to work. On particularly pretty mornings, it now makes him think about more than the waiting morning's schedule of meetings, emails and phone calls.
"I often think about that day as I ride my motorcycle in and especially as I look over at the crash site as I make the turn into work. I often think about the love for our country by those who are seeking freedom and the hatred by others because of those same freedoms," Broome said.