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New York Remembers September 11; Wall Street Five Years Later
Aired September 11, 2006 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's an essential emotional part of ground zero ceremonies each year. The name of each World Trade Center victim is read aloud by relatives or close friends. You can count the number, 2,749, but you can't calculate the depth of loss that remains.
CNN's Allan Chernoff, as New York remembers today. And he joins us now live -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Betty.
And the church bells have been ringing throughout Lower Manhattan for the past several hours, as loved ones of those who lost their lives five years ago step into the pit, into the footsteps of exactly where the Twin Towers had been. And just a few people remain, as thousands have been going down into the pit.
Earlier, you mentioned the names read, all 2,749, certainly, a time for people to reflect at just how many innocent lives were lost that day.
We also heard, after the formal ceremony, after the announcement of the names, fire engines actually running their sirens ceremonially. And, for me, personally, that bought -- brought me back five years ago, because, throughout the city that day, and for days after, you constantly heard fire engines going and going and going. It was almost just a nightmare, an audio nightmare, for so many people, beyond what happened right behind me.
Among the speakers earlier year today was a woman by the name of Susan Sliwak, who remembered her husband, Robert.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN SLIWAK, WIFE OF SEPTEMBER 11 VICTIM: How far would I travel to be where you are? How far is the journey from here to a star? And if I ever lost you, how much would I cry? How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHERNOFF: Those, the lyrics to a beautiful Irving Berlin song.
But, certainly, today is a day that the pain that so many people hold deep within them as they go about their daily routines, that pain today comes up to the surface. And we certainly saw so much of that earlier today -- Betty.
NGUYEN: It's a pain that is very real, still, five years after September 11.
But let me ask you. There has been progress that's been made in the five years as well. Talk about the foundation that is being laid at the Freedom Towers.
CHERNOFF: That's right.
The foundation is being laid to my right. And, really, they have only just been digging through some of the bedrock there. The foundation is barely in place. As you know, there have been so many political, economic, community battles involved in redeveloping ground zero.
Governor George Pataki had promised a number of years ago that -- that, on this anniversary date, the Freedom Tower would already be up. Obviously, that's not the case. So, it has been a very difficult struggle to get something rebuilt, even a memorial, here at ground zero.
NGUYEN: CNN's Allan Chernoff at ground zero in New York today on September 11.
Well, this day had a place in Pentagon history long before 2001. On that date, this date, in 1941, ground was broken for the vast and iconic structure that would house the central leadership of the U.S. military. This was also the date in 2002 when, after three million man hours of effort, the damage inflicted by a hijacked airliner was fully repaired.
Today, the Pentagon's history, mission and image are front and center in solemn ceremonies.
And CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is there.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: ... on September 11, that an army of reporters watched the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon.
Now, Mike Walter was driving on this road and had a first hand look.
What do you recall about that day?
MIKE WALTER, PENTAGON CRASH WITNESS: I just remember being stuck in traffic. I remember seeing the jet above me and starting to bank, and then it started screaming towards the Pentagon, a huge explosion, gigantic fireball. And I was just sitting there in stunned disbelief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2001)
WALTER: ... like a -- a cruise missile with wings went right there and slammed right into the Pentagon.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MCINTYRE: Now, your description on CNN five years ago, comparing the impact to like a cruise missile hitting the building has shown up on Internet conspiracy sites. What do you say to the doubters?
WALTER: Well, there's no doubt in my mind it was an American Airlines jet. What I was trying to say that day to you, was that this pilot, whoever was piloting that jet, had turned it into a weapon. I mean, there was no doubt about it. It was aiming for the Pentagon. It was a weapon of destruction.
MCINTYRE: Now, you're a reporter, but that day, you didn't have a cell phone?
WALTER: That's -- that's true. I didn't have a cell phone, and I didn't have a camera. And now I have one that does both, and I wish I had this on September 11.
MCINTYRE: Mike Walter now works for local station Channel 9 here in Washington.
I can relate to him showing up on these conspiracy sites, because, if you search the Internet, you will also find a clip of me saying that there's no evidence a plane hitting anywhere near the Pentagon.
But what they don't tell you is that quote is taken out of context. I was asked a question about whether a plane could have crashed short of the Pentagon or near the Pentagon. I said, no, not near the Pentagon, only at the Pentagon.
But it just goes to show you how these things go out on the Internet and then are perpetuated.
We are now standing by here at the Pentagon just for the -- the -- the final event here of the day. President Bush will be arriving shortly. He has arrived at Andrews Air Force Base to place a wreath at the very point where the plane hit the Pentagon five years ago. There is a small blackened piece of limestone that is set in the wall, part of the original wall that was there that was left as a memorial to mark that day.
President Bush will lay a wreath there, surrounded by family members of some of the victims of September 11. And that will be coming up shortly. You will see it here on CNN.
NGUYEN: Yes. When that happens, we will take it live, Jamie. And, in fact, you will be with us for that.
But let me ask you about the Pentagon memorial. It's something that started construction just a few months ago. Tell me about the memorial and when they expect to be completed.
MCINTYRE: Well, they -- they have now raised enough funds, that they are able to get the construction under way.
It's a very unique design. There will be 184 benches, lighted benches, one for each person who died, both on the ground and on the plane. They're just beginning construction now. You can see a -- a picture of it on the Web site. And it will be open, where people will be able to come, a sort of peaceful spot, and be able to sit and reflect on what happened, and -- and see that side of the building, which is the side right behind us, where the plane hit five years ago.
NGUYEN: CNN's Jamie McIntyre, who was there on that fateful day -- Jamie, thank you for that.
NGUYEN: Well, experts say it was as sure to come as 9/11 anniversary, a new message from al Qaeda. The video statement showed up on an Islamist Web site Sunday. The terror group's number-two man calls on Muslims to step up their resistance to the U.S. Ayman al- Zawahri also warns Americans of what he calls new events.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AYMAN AL-ZAWAHRI, SECOND IN COMMAND OF AL QAEDA (through translator): Your leaders are hiding from you the scale of the disaster that will shock you. You gave us every opportunity and every legitimacy to continue fighting you. We warned you repeatedly, and we offered you a truce.
You ignored our calls and gave us every legitimate reason to fight you, until you give in or surrender. We tell you not to concern yourselves with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are doomed. You should worry about your presence in the Gulf. And the second place they should worry about is in Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: Want to take you live now to Andrews Air Force Base, where the president has just arrived on Air Force One. You see him and the first lady walking off. They will be headed shortly to the Pentagon for that wreath-laying ceremony that Jamie McIntyre was talking about just moments ago.
That ceremony is expected to take place at 3:45 Eastern time. It's going to be a -- a ceremony that is going to last close to an hour, a very somber and solemn ceremony, in remembrance of the 184 people who died on this day, not including the five hijackers, as American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon building, setting it on fire.
And, of course, when that does happen, we will take it live right here on CNN.
Well, a good way to measure the emotional distance from 2001 to 2006, your feelings then and now. In a new poll from CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation, we spoke with 1,000 adults about September 11. Seventy percent say the country will never be back to normal, after that tragic day. As you can see, that number is up considerably since 2002. We also asked people to tell us how they feel today. Eighty-five percent have strong feelings of sadness; 74 percent, anger. Far fewer express strong feelings of fear or vengeance. Still, fear has seen a significant increase. Take a look. It's up 13 percentage points since 2002.
We have been asking viewers to share their memories of September 11.
Michelle Rosado sent this I-Report picture. Take a look. She says the photo of the Twin Towers was taken on the Friday before the attack. Look at those buildings. Rosado says she escaped from the 95th floor of the second tower, and often remembers co-workers who died on 9/11.
The solemn nature of visiting ground zero was captured by Stuart Fort. He snapped this picture while standing in line at Saint Paul's Chapel. He said people were calm and polite, as they waited five hours to see ground zero.
And two children work on the 9/11 memorial in Georgia. This picture was taken by Xin Li at a flag ceremony for victims three years ago.
You want to report for CNN, too? All you have to do is go to CNN.com/ireport.
And stay tuned to CNN as we observe the fifth anniversary of September 11.
All day today, Pipeline is playing CNN's original coverage of the September 11 attacks, uncut, unedited, as it happened, live on CNN five years ago. To use our broadband service, just log on to CNN.com and click on pipeline.
Well, his identical twin killed on 9/11 -- the pain remains, but other feelings have changed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE BAVIS, LOST IDENTICAL TWIN ON SEPTEMBER 11: And my brother's eulogy encouraged people to get back on planes. You know, if I had known then what I know now, I don't know if I could make that statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: Anger over airline security, five years after the attacks -- ahead on CNN.
And, as we mentioned, the president has just arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. Next, he will head to the Pentagon for a memorial. We will take you there live on the most trusted name in news.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NGUYEN: Some live pictures there on this September 11.
His brother, his identical twin, killed on 9/11 -- he hasn't spoken publicly about it until now.
CNN's Jason Carroll talks to him about his loss and his mission.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were literally mirror images of each other. Mike Bavis and his twin brother Mark looked so much alike, at times, only their clothing distinguished them. The two shared that special bond identical twins often talk about.
MIKE BAVIS, LOST IDENTICAL TWIN ON SEPTEMBER 11: We -- we were very close. We -- we spent so much of our time together, being in -- in sports, and really always together.
CARROLL: They grew up in Boston in a large, loving, Irish Catholic family, went to the same schools, played on the same hockey teams, even in college.
JACK PARKER, BOSTON UNIVERSITY HOCKEY COACH: They did everything together. You know, when we were recruiting them, there was a question of whether we were going to take both of them, or we would only take one. And there was no way they were going to split up and go to different schools.
BAVIS: We played together quite a bit. We were very lucky.
CARROLL: In 2001, Mark Bavis was working as a hockey scout for the Los Angeles Kings. On September 11, he boarded United Airlines flight 175 in Boston -- his life and the lives of 64 others cut short when the plane hit the World Trade Center.
BAVIS: I have got two children. And -- and my brother was a big part of all of my nieces' and -- nieces' and nephews' lives. So, I think that, you know, I look at that, and I know they have missed that. And that -- that -- that's tough.
CARROLL: For the first time since his brother's death, Bavis has agreed to talk publicly, motivated by anger over what he sees as preventable gaps in airline security, and concern that Mark's death might have been in vain.
BAVIS: And my brother's eulogy encouraged people to get back on planes. You know, if I had known then what I know now, I don't know if I could make that statement.
CARROLL: Today, Bavis is especially critical of the Transportation Security Administrations, or TSA. He says they are withholding key documents relating to the 9/11 hijackings, and are not open enough about their current security procedures.
BAVIS: I don't think being secretive, in terms of the performance, in terms of the job they're doing, is good for the American public. And -- and I think, if -- if the American public knew before 9/11 that there was a threat, we would have been much better prepared to act when those people entered the planes. What we don't know is bad for national security.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clear bag.
CARROLL: The TSA says, they provided information about their security operation to 9/11 families who requested it, "redacting only the minimum necessary to continue to protect our aviation system."
Bavis says, that's not enough. He says there needs to be more federal oversight of the TSA. And he's urging people to lean on their lawmakers.
BAVIS: Wherever you might be, red state or blue state, if you can't get engaged to learn more about what has happened since 9/11, then, we're -- we're destined to have another terrorist act.
Get over. Get over. Get over.
CARROLL: Bavis now coaches hockey at his alma mater, Boston University. The ice is where he has some his fondest memories of his brother.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bavis, backhand goal, with one second left...
CARROLL: In the school's arena, an image memorializing Mark shooting a championship goal.
(on camera): Is it OK for you to look at things like this?
BAVIS: Yes. I think that, you know, some are probably harder than others. I think that, if you asked anybody in my family, we all have times that we, you know, feel like he's right there with us.
CARROLL (voice-over): Jason Carroll, CNN, Boston.
NGUYEN: Mike and his family have set up a college scholarship fund in Mark's name. And you can go to www.markbavisleadershipfoundation.org for more information. And you can see more of Jason Carroll's reports on "PAULA ZAHN NOW," weeknights at 8:00 Eastern, only on CNN.
Well, we are standing by for a memorial at the Pentagon. The president and first lady will participate by laying a wreath at this memorial site that you see there live. We will go to that event when it happens.
You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
NGUYEN: Looking at live pictures now from Memorial Wall at ground zero in New York today, as the nation remembers.
The New York Stock Exchange is just blocks away from those pictures that you saw right there.
Susan Lisovicz is there now, with a closer look at show the attacks of September 11 affected the New York Stock Exchange and traders working there on that day -- Susan.
SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And one of them, Betty, is standing next to me.
And, five years ago, at this time, there was a joyous reunion in Westchester County, New York, because Kenny Polcari walked in the door. This was not something that could be taken for granted, because his office was on the 55th floor on the South Tower, just a few floors below where the second plane hit.
You and all of your colleagues got out OK.
KENNETH POLCARI, NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE TRADER: We actually ended up leaving that morning at about 8:20, because a couple of us were hungry, wanted to come over here for breakfast. And, so, we left, actually, about 8:20 from there, when we would have probably been there until quarter to 9:00 or 10 to 9:00 on a regular day, which would have been before our building got hit, but clearly after the first building got hit.
So, we were quite lucky that we were here, and that we were upstairs in this building when it happened.
LISOVICZ: You felt it, though. And you saw it with your own eyes as you escaped uptown.
POLCARI: I have to tell you that I did not feel the first one. None of us did. We came down to the lobby at, you know, five minutes to 9:00, and there was this confusion going on.
I came into the booth. I called my wife to try to figure out -- have her turn on the TV to tell me what's happening. And, by this time, my wife was already watching the TV and under -- trying to see it and trying to figure out where I was.
And, so, when she heard my voice, A, she was very happy, because she thought I was still in the building. And, at the moment when the second plane came around, and -- and came right into the side of the building that we were in, there was this tremendous explosion which, down here, you could feel it. You could even feel it -- I mean, the whole building started to vibrate.
LISOVICZ: And, so, you and everybody that you worked -- that worked with you escaped uptown, and you saw the tower collapse?
POLCARI: We were here on the floor. They started to evacuate the building at about maybe five after or six after 9:00. We walked out the east side of the building. We started to walk down towards Wall Street, away from the west side, as we were being directed. We walked down to the FDR Drive, and then we started walking north, because there was no other way to go, other than to walk.
LISOVICZ: You know, Kenny, I think what a lot of people don't understand is the conviction of people like you, who lost friends, close ones, that day, but the -- the sense, the overwhelming sense that, despite at all, you had to come back to work that following week. Why was that?
POLCARI: Well, you know, the New York Stock Exchange plays a major role in this country about not only who we are, but -- but what the system, our capitalist system, is all about.
And most people down there have worked there for many, many years. I mean, I have been there for 25 years myself. And there was a real sense -- and it was -- it was very patriotic -- that we needed to come back; we needed to open up on that Monday. We needed to show the world that we may have been -- we may have been hurt, but we were not, by any means, out.
LISOVICZ: And -- and there is a sense -- you know, when you talk about the American way of life, you talk about freedom of religion, freedom of speech. There is a freedom of a markets-based economy.
POLCARI: There absolutely is.
And -- and a lot of people, not only in this country, but in the world, invest in stocks that are listed here. They invest for different reasons, whether it's to buy their first home, to -- to finance their kid's education, to finance their own retirement, that they depend on -- on the U.S. capital markets to work.
And people down here understand that. And there is a real commitment. And everybody came here on that Monday. And although it was quite a somber day, and although the market didn't have a good day on that Monday, when that bell rang at 4:00, you were glad to be an American. You were proud to be an American.
LISOVICZ: There was a lot of applause that day.
POLCARI: You -- at the -- 4:00, when that bell rang, we were down -- hugging, and we were proud to be Americans, and we were proud to have been here to show the world that -- that -- that we were not out.
LISOVICZ: I have to tell you, I was very happy to be here myself to see -- see democracy at work, and the economy back on -- on its feet, or slowly getting back on its feet.
Kenny Polcari, it's a pleasure to see you. And it's good to have you back here.
POLCARI: Thank you.
LISOVICZ: And that's the latest from here -- back to you, Betty.
NGUYEN: Yes. And what we saw was America's resilience.
Susan, thank you for that.
LISOVICZ: You're welcome.
NGUYEN: Sunday under attack and engulfed in flames -- when terrorists flew their hijacked planes into the Pentagon on September 11, the battle to stay alive began for Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell. Just ahead from the CNN NEWSROOM, he joins me live.
And we will bring that Pentagon memorial ceremony to you as well, as soon it begins.
Stay with us.
NGUYEN: The tears, they keep flowing five years after 9/11. And, today, bells tolled, choirs sang, as the country mourned the victims of the terror attacks. But Americans aren't the only ones remembering the tragic date.
Here is a look at memorials all around the world.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HOWARD, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: We also gather to reaffirm our commitments, both as friends and allies of the people of the United States, but also as citizens of the world, to maintain the fight against terrorism.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless the memory of those who perished at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania. Bring peace and comfort to their surviving families, friends, and loved ones. May their memory inspire us to never grow weary in our vigilance to protect our homeland. Be near us now. Rekindle our spirit of faith and trust in you that we may be strengthened by their selfless acts of courage as we look to you for the hope of our tomorrows. Amen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: We have a breaking news story to tell you about. A school is in lockdown in Delhi, California. Let's go on the phone now to Sheriff Mark Pazin to tell about exactly what is happening at that school. Sheriff, bring us up to speed.
SHERIFF MARK PAZIN, MERCED COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Good afternoon. Basically, around 9:00 this morning, Pacific Standard Time, an individual was looking for aluminum cans at the Delhi Educational Park, here in Delhi, came across a blue backpack. Inside the backpack he found three hand guns with ammunition and an assault rifle, an SKS assault rifle, functional with a 30 round banana clip.
At this point in time, we have deputies that have locked down the educational park. We are doing a systemic and methodical search of approximately 25 acres, with a student population of 850, along with associated faculty. So we're going to be in for a long day. We will be going into the classrooms here shortly and it's just an interesting parallel that we found the weapons on the anniversary of 9/11, on or about the same time when the towers were hit, around 9:00 a.m. this morning.
NGUYEN: Do you know anything about who that backpack belongs to and if there were other guns on the property?
PAZIN: Well, that's what we're in the process of. We are very concerned that there is some sick or demented person trying to take advantage of the five-year 9/11 anniversary. So we are not taking anything at chance. We have canines on the ground, their specialty is gun powder and gun powder residue.
So again we are doing a systemic, a methodical search of the grounds, both ancillary and internal to the educational park. So we are doing everything just to make sure we don't have some sick or demented person trying to get their kicks on what should be a solemn day today, on the anniversary of 9/11.
NGUYEN: Well Sheriff Mark Pazin, thanks so much for joining us and bringing us up-to-speed on what is happening there at Delhi High School, there in California, where the school is under lockdown. Thank you for that and if anything develops, of course, we will be wanting to speak with you.
In the meantime, let's go straight to the Pentagon now where a memorial is about to begin. And CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is there. Jamie.
MCINTYRE: And Betty, one of the final events of the day for President Bush, who has arrived at the Pentagon, which you see behind me. The side of the Pentagon, the southwest side that was hit by American Airlines Flight 77 five years ago. There will be a wreath- laying ceremony at the precise point where the plane hit the building, which is now marked by a blackened piece of limestone, blackened from the original explosion five years ago and engraved with the date September 11, 2001.
At the site are members of Congress, some of the family members, other dignitaries, awaiting the arrival of the president, whose helicopter landed outside the Pentagon a short time ago. President Bush making the trip, of course, from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the site of the crash of United Airlines Flight 93. This, again, is sort of the last formal event, as the president toured all of the sites that were attacked that day, and this one will be, again, a wreath- laying ceremony here at the very point of impact.
It's quite an impressive rebuilding job that has gone on here at the Pentagon. The original limestone was replaced with limestone from the same quarry. And as you look across at the side of the Pentagon, you almost can't tell where it was hit five years ago. A stark difference from the scene that we saw standing in this gas station parking lot five years ago, watching the Pentagon burn, watching all of the debris and fire trucks, and then, eventually, over the months to come, seeing them carve a huge hole out of the Pentagon, as they took away all of the debris and began rebuilding the building.
NGUYEN: It is a stark difference, Jamie. You were there on that day when the plane hit. Take us back to that moment. What memory sticks out most in your mind?
MCINTYRE: Well, I think the thing that struck me was, well, first of all, when we saw the second plane hit the tower in New York, we knew right away that there was a terrorist event going on. Up until then, it was a little confusing. And then we saw the attack at the Pentagon. When I was in my office, which is on the opposite side of the building and the building is so big, that I didn't see or feel the impact. Part of that may have been because my office was filled with people.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was recovering from shoulder surgery, is here at the Pentagon to welcome President Bush. Rumsfeld, on that day, remarkably, against the advice of his aides, instead of being whisked away to safety, he actually ran to the scene. Now we see President Bush arriving. He's walking out the door, which is now being called the memorial door, because this is right near where the Pentagon memorial will be built right across from this site and we can see as the president is rounding the turn there, he is coming right to the precise point where the plane hit that day.
As you heard the strings of the U.S. Army's Pershing Zone Brass Quintet there, playing America the Beautiful. President Bush now greeting some of the people in the crowd, along with Laura Bush. You know, it's impossible to see that spot and stand in front of that blackened piece of limestone and not get a chill up your spine about what happened on that day five years ago.
NGUYEN: It's definitely a solemn moment. He is meeting with those in the crowd now and I imagine family members as well as those who have perished on that day. Jamie, there were 184 people killed in the Pentagon attack, 125 inside the Pentagon, 59 on board American Airlines Flight 77, and that doesn't even include the five hijackers on the plane. A lot of loss on that day, but the nation also does look forward. There is a Pentagon memorial that is being erected. It started construction back in June, Jamie.
MCINTYRE: That's right Betty and again, it's right at this site. MCINTYRE: It will be a place the public will be able to come and see the site of the Pentagon, the site of the crash. And the winning design is actually quite stirring. It features 184 lighted benches. They are benches with lights underneath and trees, as well, for each of the victims on that day.
It will be a place of peaceful repose right outside the nation's military headquarters, a permanent reminder of the sacrifices made on that day.
NGUYEN: A lot of sacrifices made on that day.
Again, we are watching the president meet with those there witnessing this wreath-laying memorial today to those killed in the Pentagon attacks. As we look at these pictures and we think about what happened on this day, five years ago, Jamie, you also have to think about how the nation has healed. You've covered the Pentagon. You're there day in, day out. Do you feel that healing has occurred, or is there still a lot of ground to go in the healing process?
MCINTYRE: Well, I think we saw particularly in the aftermath of September 11th, was a great deal of resolve on the part of the U.S. military and the civilian leadership to battle back against the forces that attacked the United States.
And despite the fact that both Afghanistan and Iraq have turned into being deadly and difficult missions, it is inspiring sometimes to see the bit of resolve, both on the part of some of the leaders who are leading the campaigns there, but particularly on the resolve of the average soldier, sailor, airmen, marine who are fighting in those theaters of war, who believe in their mission.
And, you know, whatever you think about the policy, you really have to take your hat off to the dedication of the U.S. military. And as a reporter, whenever you get out in the field, we cover a lot of things at the Pentagon, where we hear the view from the top, but whenever you go out in the field and you see the U.S. military close up at work, it's always a very impressive sight.
These have been very trying times for the U.S. military. It's stretched very thin. People acknowledge that. The mission in Iraq has turned out to be more difficult than they expected. The U.S. military and civilians acknowledge that as well. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld today earlier, speaking at the Pentagon said that he thought people ought to give the U.S. servicemen the benefit of the doubt, because they deserve that.
While there have been some scandals and some problems, the U.S. military continues to point out 99.9 percent of the U.S. military population serves with great distinction and honor in what was become quite a difficult time, post-September 11.
NGUYEN: Jamie, we're going to pause for a moment and just let our viewers take in what is happening at the Pentagon today as the president is there for this memorial service and meets with the people who are there to remember and to reflect.
NGUYEN: Looking at pictures now of President Bush greeting people at the Pentagon, following today's memorial service there in remembrance of those who died on this day five years ago.
Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell was at the Pentagon on 9/11. He had been watching the news of the World Trade Center attacks unfold with his colleagues, when suddenly his world changed forever.
American Airlines Flight 77 came crashing into the Pentagon as this surveillance video shows. Birdwell was thrown to the ground and engulfed in flames and he began a fight for his life. He tells his story in the book "Refined by Fire". The retired lieutenant colonel joins me now from Dallas, Texas.
Thanks for being with us today.
LT. COL. BRIAN BIRDWELL, 9/11 PENTAGON SURVIVOR: Thank you, ma'am. Great to be here.
NGUYEN: I'm going to call you Brian because I know you want to be called Brian. Let me ask you this. Is it true that you were just about 20 yards away from the nose of the plane after it hit the Pentagon?
BIRDWELL: Yes, ma'am. The part of the building that collapsed, my office was on the left-hand side, as you're looking at the building from the outside. I was just to the right of it. And going to the men's restroom, I had walked through the crash site. I went to the restroom and was now returning, so I was 15 to 20 yards, so I get to tell folks I'm not doing too bad for a guy who got hit by a 757.
NGUYEN: You have quite a character on you, I tell you. You've been through so much and you seem to find humor and you find life in all that you've been given, and I think that's a real testament to who you are.
But let me read something that you said to the 9/11 Commission. This is a testimony that you gave and it's so powerful. You said, "At the instant of impact, I went from a well-lit hallway, fully aware of my surroundings, to an earthly hell of fire, choking black smoke, physical and emotional pain and disorientation, all of which seemed to last an eternity."
In fact, you collapsed on the floor fully prepared to die. Then all of a sudden, you feel this cold water rush upon you. Tell us what happened.
BIRDWELL: Well, those moments that I struggled to survive seemed like an eternity, but there came a moment when I realized that I was no longer in the struggle for my life but it was now the acceptance of my death. I did what we in the military are never trained to do, and that's give up. I collapsed to the floor and waited to die.
And as I lay there, waiting for, you know, OK Lord, come on, let's get on with this thing, I could feel liquid running down the left side of my face. And I had actually collapsed under one of the functioning sprinkler systems that was still working inside the building. And it was just one of those many miracles that day that the Lord performed in my life to bring me here to be with you today, five years later.
NGUYEN: That is a miracle. So tell us. Tell us about the injuries you sustained, the burns and the 30 surgeries that you had to go through.
BIRDWELL: Yes, ma'am. The exterior burns were 60 to 65 percent total body surface burn, face, legs, back, neck. In fact, my arms are completely grafted from fingertip to armpit. My inhalation injury was my most immediately life-threatening injury because of the aerosolized jet fuel and the black smoke. In fact, because of the blistering, I was, in fact, beginning to drown. When I got to Georgetown University Hospital emergency room, they had to drain my lungs.
And then the number of surgeries that I went through. This past June of 2005, I had my 39th operation, that was to complete the reconstruction of my ears. The ears that you see are artificial cartilage with my own skin grafts over it. My eye sockets, my neck, forehead, portions of my wrists and elbows have been redone as well. So after 39 trips to the operating room, I'm -- I don't look too bad for a guy that got run over by a...
NGUYEN: No, I was about to say, you look pretty doggone good! Let me ask you, though, in all seriousness, it's been five years. Do you still wrestle with the question of why was I spared?
BIRDWELL: No, ma'am, because the day that the Lord can answer that question for me, I won't be worried about the answer when I stand before him again. Is there not a survivor's guilt in our family but it's really more the survivor's mission to go out and talk about Sandy and Cheryl (ph), the two coworkers I knew that day that I lost when I said I'd be back momentarily, and those would be the last words I would speak.
So I just look at life as a second blessing that the Lord has given me for another time. And here we are five years later and whether it's ten, 15, 20, I'll get to watch my son continue to grow up. He graduates from high school this year. And Mel and I will continue to be able to live our lives together, and just look at it as a blessing that the Lord's given us.
NGUYEN: I tell you, you are a strong man. You have healed physically, emotionally, spiritually. But as the nation continues to heal, do you feel that America is safer, that it is as prepared as it should be, considering what we've been through?
BIRDWELL: Well, the challenge that -- in being prepared is remember, we have a very thinking enemy. Just last month with the British Airways plot that was discovered in London, we learned how they were going to use other types of things to blow planes out of the air. So we have a thinking enemy that we've got to be just as flexible and rapid in our response, rather than just sitting and waiting for the next attack to learn how it's done.
I do think we are safer. Primarily not because the issues of homeland defense, although that's part of it. The bigger issue is that we've got to go overseas and change the culture that bred them. We've got two strategic choices in this nation: drain the swamp or live with the mosquitoes that come out of it.
And the military victories in Iraq and Afghanistan that have brought the political victories of representative government, and those nations that now bring about the opportunities for economic prosperity and liberties of those countries, we think will be a flame of liberty to that part of the world. And that's the best way to fix this problem with terrorism. I think President Bush is exactly right. You've got to go change that culture. And it's not going to happen in three or four years, it's going to take decades.
NGUYEN: Well, before we let you go, I just want to say briefly that you are actually working with your life to help others, other burn victims. And I want to commend you for that. Thank you for spending some time with us, and thank you for the work that you do.
BIRDWELL: Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate it and thank you for the invitation.
BIRDWELL: Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell, a 9/11 Pentagon survivor. Survivor is the word there.
A look at a young life, though, lost in the war on terror as we salute our fallen heroes. That's ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.
NGUYEN: While Americans mark the attacks of September 11th with remembrance ceremonies, one American family is burying a son in Arlington National Cemetery today. Marine Private First Class Colin J. Wolfe was just 14 years old when the 9/11 attacks happened, and just 19 when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on August 30th. His family says Wolfe started dancing when he was two-and-a-half, and he's seen here on the left as a high school performance.
He would enlist in the marines just two months after this production. Wolfe's family is setting up a memorial fund at the George Mason Performing Arts Center, which is now under construction in his hometown of Manassas, Virginia. Colin Wolfe, just one of 2,669 men and women who have sacrificed their lives in the war in Iraq.
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