Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Firefighter recalls witnessing 9/11 attacks at Pentagon

That evening, he was told that he would be managing firefighters at the Pentagon during the night shift for the next week

By Kirk Brown
The Anderson Independent-Mail

IVA, S.C. — Firefighter Bob Witherow was attending a staff meeting in Fairfax County, Va., when a secretary announced that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.

The supervisor leading the meeting shrugged, assuming that a small aircraft had probably clipped the building.

Minutes later the secretary told the firefighters that the plane was a commercial airliner.

"We decided that it was time for a coffee break," recalled Witherow, who is now retired and lives in Iva.

As the firefighters huddled around a TV, a second jet slammed into one of the Twin Towers.

Bob Witherow shows the Flag of Heroes that he places on his flag pole every September 11. Witherow was a Fairfax County fire fighter and was at the Pentagon the day after the attack.

"It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that wasn't an accident," Witherow said.

The firefighters quickly turned their attention to possible terrorist targets in their county outside of Washington, D.C. The Central Intelligence Agency headquarters was at the top of the list.

Their discussion was interrupted again by the news that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon in neighboring Arlington County.

Witherow, who was a battalion chief, spent the rest of Sept. 11 at a command center. That evening, he was told that he would be managing firefighters at the Pentagon during the night shift for the next week.

It was an assignment he won't ever forget.

Upon arriving at the Pentagon on the afternoon of Sept. 12, Witherow said, "I was just in total awe of the amount of destruction."

"The charred remains near the impact site left an everlasting impression," he added.

Witherow coordinated efforts to brace damaged parts of the building and battle "spot" fires. He said one of the most difficult fires to put out was in the Pentagon's attic, where decades before construction workers had placed straw and horse hair to serve as insulation.

Fairfax County, VA fire fighter Bob Witherow shows photos of the Pentagon that he took the day after the attack.

As the week wore on, Witherow visited parts of the Pentagon where 125 people perished after hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building. Sixty four people aboard the plane also died.

"I can't tell you how bad and how gory it was," he said.

One of the sights that Witherow still remembers is a wall far inside the building that bore the unmistakable impression of the airplane's nose.

After retiring in 2007, Witherow, 58, moved to Iva, which is where his mother and uncle live.

Recently he returned to Virginia to help his daughter buy a new car. The area was hit by an earthquake and Hurricane Irene while he was there.

"For over 30 years, 9-1-1 has always been a very important number to me working with emergencies of all kinds in the fire department," Witherow said. "However, 9-11 changed all of our lives and that day makes me proud to be a firefighter."

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