Protecting the children of a Pentagon Heroine

Magazine page with woman in white cover shirt with "Navy" patch, headline related to Pentagon survivors
Photograph of uniformed people running towards camera, damaged Pentagon and fire hose spray in background

On September 11, 2001 I was at my secondary office at the Census Bureau's computer center. My sister-in-law Theresa who was a corpsman in the Navy was stationed at the Pentagon. Her husband was on a business trip out west.

Their kids were at a day care center near Quantico. After the planes hit and air traffic was shut down neither parent was able to reach their kids. Cell towers were overloaded and we couldn't connect to my sister-in-law to find out where she was and IF she had survived. We eventually reached my brother-in-law and found out about the kids and agreed to get them and keep them safe until either or both of them came home.

Our niece is now serving overseas and I had a conversation with her as an adult to see what she remembers about that day. That conversation is below.

The attached photo shows her mother toward the right in her whites carrying an emergency medical bag. She was at the Pentagon for many days dealing with the horror. When she was able to take a break and some rest at our house and reunite with her children it was an amazingly grateful time for all of us.

We are especially grateful to retired WTOP traffic master Bob Marbourg who gave his help to me that horrible day to help me get these children to safety. I don't know how many hours he talked me through the traffic issues, and helped me keep my composure by just BEING THERE with me over the phone.

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9/11/2020

Brian:

I have a photo of your mom at the Pentagon doing her duty that day. Would you like it?

I'm sad that we had to go through that together. Do you remember that when I picked you up at day care there was an armed Marine guarding the day care center and they asked you to look at me from down the hall to see if you knew the person picking you up or not (and would have arrested me if not). Do you remember that I had no key to your parent's house, and I kicked in the doggie door so Michael could crawl through and let us in so you could pack your bags?

I had my car packed to protect you with my life when I came to get you, and even camp for a week if we couldn't get back to my house since most bridges near DC were blocked by tanks. We were at war that day and YOU were my mission.

One of the nation's top traffic reporters was Bob Marbourg of WTOP news radio (now retired). I've been a volunteer traffic reporter as I commuted for years, and I called in a favor that day. I told Bob the situation and he was on the phone with me for hours when he wasn't on the air, telling me each blockage and side road to get around them as he kept tabs on truckers ahead of me so I could get to you despite the situation. He did the same again to get us home.

The night your mom was with us and had to return, I called Bob again and gave the phone to your mom so he could tell her the best way to get from Bowie to the Pentagon at that moment.

That was a hard time for all of us. I'm grateful to have been able to care for you and Michael during that horrifying time in our lives.

Justine:

There's a lot of things I don't remember that day. I remember Michael having to crawl through the dog door. I remember making an Igloo with Andy and some pipes he and Patrick had in their rooms. Other than that, I don't really remember anything else. I don't remember the marine, I remember looking down the hall and what I thought was you and Andy, but it was from a distance, and I was expecting mom. So my young brain was confused, and I just remember it being a coincidence that I saw you when you were at the entrance.

A few years ago mom read her drafted speech to us that she gave at a memorial event, and I remember her mentioning about you calling Bob for a traffic update so she could avoid as much traffic as possible.

Brian:

I'm sure there's a lot that blurred for me as well. Do you have the pic of your mom with her medic bag? It ran in the Washington Post that week.

Justine:

No I don't have the picture, but I've seen it.

Brian:

I have the original newspaper clip. I contacted the reporter and identified her, and they sent me the clear copy of the photo.

Justine:

Wow

Brian:

A friend and co-worker of mine who I've known since elementary school was supposed to be in one of the meeting rooms that morning. He didn't make it there and phoned in, but one of his best friends was there.

Justine:

I've heard so many people's stories. My best friend told me that her dad was to take her to the trade center that day, but was called into work. Then people that were serving Army and Air Force when the attack occurred

Brian:

It was a Tuesday. I was at our computer center when I heard the news. When I realized what was happening I relocated back to the house. With all that was going on, we did what we could to shield you and Michael from the horror.

I had been scheduled to teach at a scout parent/son camping weekend and the Council called me to say it was being cancelled. I fucking blew up at them.

I told them that was a HORRIBLE choice. During such times, children needed to be protected, loved, and given confirmation that the world will be OK. I beat the crap out of them until they agreed to hold the camp weekend anyway.

It was one of the most emotionally charged scouting events I've ever experienced. We were out in VA not far from Dulles airport. Nothing was allowed to fly except our fighters since the events. Late Saturday afternoon we spotted the first commercial airplane to fly out of Dulles since then.

The whole camp exploded in cheers!

Before I went to that camp, I stopped at the home of a dear friend of mine who was a DC fire fighter (now retired). He was sleeping off several days on duty at the Pentagon. I asked his wife to let him sleep, but bring out his turnout gear. She shook them out over a newspaper I'd spread out and I collected the ashes. There is a tradition in Scouting to bring ashes from a previous event to the next, and add them to the fire to tie the events together. On Saturday night at the scout campfire, I did a ceremony giving the story of the ashes and places they have been. That night, I added ashes from the Pentagon, provided by a Scout leader who served there as a first responder (my friend). Later, I received ashes from NYC and PA as well from other scouter, first responders and added them into the history of the Scouting ashes.

One of my best friends lost his brother in NYC.

Two coworkers from Census were on the plane that went down in PA.

Justine:

I don't know what else to say other than wow.

Brian:

I still have some of the ashes from each location. My coworker who missed his meeting at the Pentagon that day gave me a piece of slate from the Pentagon's roof. It still smelled of aviation fuel slightly. He added in a letter thanking ME for my service that day. I still don't know how to respond to that.

He was military for life. I couldn't qualify due to my damaged knee. We all do what we can. I'm honored to have served you and your family when I could.

Remember. May the memories make you stronger.

Justine:

They do, remembering gives me the courage to face the fears of potential deployments in the future because I know that the purpose is to fight people that want to hurt good people like that again

Brian:

You are worth fighting for, and so are those you love. Not all of us have a time in our life when we can make a difference. I have. You are. Your parents have. You have the watch.

And so do we all in our own way.

Justine:

Me and Brady have the watch

Brian:

Indeed.

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