‘It was the loudest explosion I’ve ever heard’: A 9/11 survivor on her harrowing escape from the Pentagon


Retired Col. Marilyn Wills speaks throughout a panel occasion to debate the terrorist assault on September 11, 2001, on the Pentagon on September 08, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.

Anna Moneymaker | Getty Photos

WASHINGTON — For U.S. Military Col. Marilyn Wills the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, began out as a “stunning, sunny day” as she made her approach to the Pentagon, a each day trek made by some 20,000 individuals to one of many world’s largest workplace buildings.

“My household and I might at all times stand up and pray collectively, I’ve two women and my husband. However that morning I did not as a result of I needed to go away for the Pentagon. I solely dwell 16 miles from right here, however it might take you two and a half hours due to the visitors,” Wills mentioned, including that her day was crammed with back-to-back briefings on the Pentagon.

“At 9 o’clock we had a gathering and understanding the Military if you happen to had been there at 9 you are late, so I obtained there no less than 15 minutes early,” she mentioned.

As Wills discovered a seat on the polished convention room desk alongside 15 of her colleagues within the not too long ago renovated “Wedge 1” part of the Pentagon, the primary hijacked aircraft slammed into the World Commerce Middle in New York.

At 8:46 a.m. ET, hijackers affiliated with al Qaeda flew American Airways Flight 11 into the North Tower of the Commerce Middle. Almost 15 minutes later, hijackers crashed United Airways Flight 175 into the Commerce Middle’s twin, the South Tower.

By 9:05 a.m., it was clear that America was below assault.

“As we went across the desk, I simply glanced at my watch and thought oh my gosh it is 9:20, the assembly goes a bit lengthy,” Wills mentioned. “As quickly as my flip to talk, it was the loudest explosion I had ever heard and the room went fully darkish.”

My first thought was … so there should have been a development incident or accident.”

At 9:37 a.m., American Airways Flight 77 barreled into the west aspect of the Pentagon close to Wedge 1, the place Wills attended a typical workers assembly. The aircraft, touring at roughly 530 mph, killed 184 individuals and injured scores.

After the nostril of the aircraft hit the Pentagon, a fireball erupted upward and rose 200 toes above the roof, triggering subsequent explosions all through the constructing.

“I used to be on the correct aspect of the desk and was blown to the left aspect of the desk,” defined Wills, saying that she crawled throughout the room to one of many doorways.

“I grabbed the deal with and pulled my hand again as a result of that door was so scorching. Then I crawled again throughout the room to exit of one other door,” Wills mentioned.

“Somebody grabbed maintain of my belt, and I requested: ‘Who is that this? Discuss to me. Who is that this?'”

“She mentioned her identify. Her identify was Lois Stevens and I instructed Lois: ‘Maintain on to me. I’ve you, do not let me go. For the place I am going, you go. Maintain on to me.”

The 2 ladies crawled by way of the destruction calling for assist and trying to find survivors alongside the way in which.

The worst factor of all was the odor.”

“Lois tugged on me and mentioned she could not go any additional. She had nylons on and her stockings had melted onto her legs,” Wills defined, including that she proceeded to hold Lois.

They discovered their approach to different survivors within the constructing, who had been gathered round a cloudy window making an attempt to interrupt it free.

“As everyone knows, the home windows are blast-proof,” Wills mentioned, including that the group desperately threw objects on the glass hoping to interrupt it. The group then determined to kick out the body of the window.

“The smoke simply bellowed out of the window,” Wills mentioned, because the survivors scrambled to assemble a human staircase with their our bodies to assist one another get out of the constructing.

“I got here out of the window and stepped on legs and arms and heads earlier than being caught and brought into triage,” Wills defined.

Smoke and flames rise over the Pentagon at about 10 a.m. following the September 11, 2001 terrorist assault.

U.S. Navy | Getty Photos

Wills wouldn’t know what occurred that day till eight days later as a result of she was hospitalized for her accidents.

“My first thought was, we had simply moved into this new space of the Pentagon, and so there should have been a development incident or accident,” Wills mentioned, earlier than studying in regards to the terrorist assaults.

“The Military gave me a number of days off and I got here again to work, however I might solely come again for half days after I initially got here again,” she defined. “The worst factor of all was the odor. You might odor the fumes, you could possibly odor burning our bodies, you could possibly odor the burning wires, you could possibly odor all of it. That was the worst for me,” Wills mentioned, who has since retired after serving 30 years within the Military.

“I might stroll down the hallways and I might suppose that I noticed a ghost,” Wills mentioned, including that the psychological trauma from that day proved to be probably the most troublesome.

“Particularly once they opened up the flight plan again over the Pentagon once more. I bear in mind I used to be sitting in a gathering and watching these planes go by. Simply put that in your perspective. I could not sit there,” she mentioned.

“Finally I obtained there as a result of I knew I needed to proceed to serve,” Wills mentioned, including that she had family who would later go on to serve within the post-9/11 wars.

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