Publication Date: Friday, September 14, 2001|
From a distance
From a distance
(September 14, 2001) Weekly reporter used to cover the Pentagon
by Geoff S. Fein
For almost a year I spent every Tuesday morning at the Pentagon. I walked the hallways of the world's largest office building as a reporter for "Inside the Navy." I wrote about the Navy and Marine Corps. and got to know a lot of Marine Corps personnel on the upper floors of the Pentagon -- the same floors where a commercial jet hit on Tuesday morning; the same time I would have been there.
My colleagues at "Inside the Navy" and the four other military publications have all been accounted for. I don't know about my friends in the military.
My office was on the 14th floor of Crystal Gateway One, a 16-story office building a few blocks from the Pentagon. I could walk to the Pentagon, flash my identification to the guards at the back door and stroll in.
Keith Costa, a colleague of mine, and I had desks with views overlooking Washington, D.C., from the Pentagon to the Capitol Building. Keith told me the view was dust and debris on Tuesday. He felt the explosion. A few minutes later he was told to go home by the publisher. It took Keith four hours to drive home, a trip I recall would normally take 20 to 30 minutes.
It's weird sitting here thousands of miles away and thinking I may know someone possibly killed in Tuesday's terrorist attack at the Pentagon. I may have known people killed in the terrorist attack in New York too, but the attack on the Pentagon hit closer to home. I worked there and more than likely would have been there Tuesday morning. I can't say I would have been injured or killed, but I would have been there.
When word of the attack came over my car radio, I began to shake. It's a weird feeling.
The Pentagon is a gigantic maze that took me weeks to figure out how to maneuver. When a friend came to work at "Inside the Air Force," I tried to show him around the Pentagon. We ended up getting lost. I eventually figured out how to get from 6E, the back side of the top floor, to the subway station. I know the floors that were destroyed. I know the building that may be gone forever. Whatever anyone's view of the military, the Pentagon was an awesome sight.
Most of the offices I hung out in were along the fifth and sixth floor. Gen. William Whitlow, head of Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare, had his office on the fifth floor. Col. Frederick Olsen, who was once Whitlow's executive assistant, is now assistant to the Secretary of the Navy. His office is around the corner, but well within the area taken out by the commercial jet.
Sure, both Whitlow and Olsen could have been out of the office; "TDY" as the military folks call it. I sure hope so. But this is also the time the Senate and House Appropriations Committees release their reports on military expenditures. Whitlow, as head of Expeditionary Warfare, would need to see that information to determine if the ships he needs will get money. Maybe he was late to work Tuesday.
When I first went to Europe in 1972, I recall being in Paris a few days after a terrorist bombing at Charles de Gaulle airport. I remember going through intensive airport security when I left France for home. When I flew home from Berlin in 1989, I remember going through intensive security at a stop in Frankfurt when a piece of luggage couldn't be matched up with its owner.
The attack on the Pentagon hit closer to home. I worked there, got to know the military personnel, the staff in the food court, in the stores, in the corridors.
All I can do now is shake my head in dismay.
I don't think; "it could have been me." No, I think about the people I know and hope it didn't happen to them.
Geoff S. Fein is a staff writer for the Weekly.