By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 7, 2007 - Nearly six years after a terrorist-controlled plane slammed into the Pentagon, killing 184 people aboard the plane and in the building, Defense Department historians have published a book on the incident and its aftermath. "Pentagon 9/11" is a narrative history based on a multitude of information sources, including 1,300 oral histories gathered in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The book became available this week through the U.S. Government Bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.gov and also through commercial vendors.
"It's the first scholarly study of what happened at the Pentagon on 11 September 2001," said Randy Papadopoulos, a historian with the Naval Historical Center, who co-authored the book. "The 9/11 Commission Report, very rigorously researched, doesn't really talk about the Pentagon very much and what happened here."
Thanks to intensive interviewing in the aftermath of the attack conducted by personnel in Defense Department history offices, Papadopoulos said historians know more about what happened during the Pentagon attack than they do about what happened at the World Trade Center.
"Something else that stands out, which is really, I think very important from the point of view of the public, is that it's a real opportunity ... to gain some insight into the mindset of military people and what happens to them in a crisis," Papadopoulos.
Each oral history collected filled in another piece of a scattered puzzle, he said. For instance, there were two young Marines who heard the explosion, looked at each other and ran toward the noise to see how they could help.
"I think that this book and the oral histories that supported it ... show how the military really takes care of its own," Papadopoulos said.
Nancy Berlage, an editor in Office of the Secretary of Defense's Historical Office and another co-author, agreed the book takes the events that occurred at the Pentagon on Sept. 11 down to the human level.
"I think one of the most important things about this book is we know that this is an event that happened to the nation," she said. "We all saw it, but what we tried to do with this book is show how it affected people on a very personal level, what their personal experience was, what their reaction was, how they felt about being there."
The team of authors learned about more than the individual experiences as they conducted their researched, however. For instance the effects of recently completed renovations to one wedge of the Pentagon that was hit were mixed, said Diane Putne, a historian in the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Historical Office.
"Renovations brought features that were really a two-edged sword," she said.
The blast-proof windows didn't explode into deadly shards, and ballistic cloth in the walls did its job protecting employees from brick fragments. But all the force that was being absorbed by these reinforcements had to go somewhere, and it did, blowing a hole in a wall of one of the building's interior alleys.
But, as the oral accounts revealed, the sprinkler systems did their jobs and created welcomed relief from smoke and helped suppress the fires in certain areas of the building.
The research also revealed the successful coordination between area emergency response groups. That can be attributed in part to frequent events in the nation's capital which require such cooperation to deal with large crowds and road closures, the authors said.
The information gathering that quickly ensued, and included material evidence, gives Putney a position from which to dispute theories doubting the existence of a plane.
"I have ho doubt it was American Airlines Flight 77 (that hit the building)," she said. Her statement is based on visual evidence, a piece of the plane that was discovered and bore the American Airlines logo.
The authors said they worked through the challenge of selecting the most pertinent information and compelling oral accounts and meshing them together to create a moving history that was as accurate as possible.
"We could not even begin to imagine what it was like," Berlage said. "I hope what comes across is the real human condition and the experience of this tragic event."
Alfred Goldberg, the historian of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Rebecca Hancock Welch, who has served as a historian several government historical centers, also lent their knowledge and expertise to the project.