Remembering 9/11: Perspective from the Pentagon on The Day of the Attack

September 11, 2020


David Pan is currently assigned to the National Counterterrorism Center at the ODNI. Pan has over 37 years of federal service.

“I remember that day as clearly as yesterday.”


It has been 19 years since the tragic attacks in New York, NY, Arlington, VA, and Shanksville, PA. Nearly 3,000 of our friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues never made it home that night.


For David Pan, a career intelligence officer who was inside the Pentagon on the fateful morning of September 11, 2001, these events changed his life forever. Pan was fortunate to make it out of the Pentagon alive; however, the emotional impact the day made on him is everlasting.


“To me, 9/11 was a life defining moment. The world will never be the same as the day before,” said Pan, currently a contractor at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). “Our innocence at our home front was forever shattered. We look at the world and ourselves differently.”


Pan has committed over 37 years of his life to protecting the national security of the United States of America, but the emotions that he felt on 9/11 created a new sense of what service means.


“I felt a very strong sense of national cohesion in the aftermath of 9/11. We rallied behind our president and were determined to find and punish those who perpetrated the attack on all of us,” said Pan. “Nineteen years have passed, but I think we are still united in preventing another 9/11 on our soil.”


The hijackers of the plane that hit the Pentagon flew the aircraft into the western façade of the Pentagon, the exact location of where Pan’s office used to be.


On the day of the attacks, Pan and his colleagues were working on a global nuclear command and control exercise in the basement of the Pentagon.


To Pan, and many others, the day appeared no different than other late summer days in the D.C. area.


“Sept 11, 2001 started as a beautifully clear morning when I arrived at the Pentagon parking lot at 7:00 that morning. I remember watching a plane take off from the National Airport while walking inside. We had TVs in the room in the basement of the building, near corridor 8.”


When they turned the TVs on that morning, nobody in the Pentagon basement thought they would witness the largest terrorist attack on American soil since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.


“I watched the events unfolding in New York City, with the report of the first plane crashing into the North Tower, and then the second going into the South Tower. It was then I knew that it was a terrorist attack.”


With these attacks occurring just four hours north of the Pentagon, the question arose as to where the next attack or target would be.


“We kept working on our exercise after that, but I made a remark that the Pentagon police better tighten up security as we’re probably next. A short time later, the officer working the exercise with us ran into our space and told us that a plane had hit the building and we needed to evacuate.”


But many did not feel the urgency and seriousness of the attack right away.


“It was surreal, walking up the stairs with others with no sense of urgency that felt like a fire drill. It was only when we arrived at the exit we knew it was not normal. The security guards told us to keep moving, not to swipe our badges and exit the building to the parking lot.”


As the masses made it outside, the attack became very real. Even from the other side of the world’s largest office building, smoke and flames could be seen.


“I looked up and saw smoke coming over the building from the other side of the Pentagon where the plane had struck. I went to my car and turned on the radio. I could see the smoke from the other side by Route 27. After a while, I decided that it wasn’t wise to stay there, as things were very confusing. I got on the road.”


As thousands of Americans learned about the Pentagon attack on TV, they began to worry about their loved ones who were in the building that day. All they wanted to do was call and see if they were alive. Unfortunately, that was not an option.


“My wife didn’t know what happened to me since all the cell phones lines were jammed and I couldn’t get through.”


Pan ultimately made it home safely to his wife and began to reflect on his morning. Each year, he remembers the events, the smells, and the chaos that ensued the Pentagon that morning.


On September 11, 2001, the United States suffered a loss that no one expected. What started as a normal day turned into an ongoing 19 year Global War on Terrorism. On behalf of the ODNI and the entire Intelligence Community, we mourn the lives lost on that day and salute the brave men and women who serve our nation to ensure another 9/11 does not happen on American soil.



Source: DNI

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