Pentagon: an interview with survivor Dan Holdridge
Undicisettembre has recently collected the account of a Pentagon survivor, Dan Holdridge (name quoted with his permission), who used to work in the building as a contractor.
Holdridge is also the author of a very interesting and touching book in which he gives a detailed account of his experience. The title of the book is Surviving September 11th and we highly recommend it to anyone who wants to have a better knowledge of what happened that day.
We would like to thank Dan Holdridge for his kindness and willingness to help.
Undicisettembre: What do you recall, generally speaking? Can you give us an account of your experience?
At that time I was inside the Pentagon working as a contractor. I said: “Let me hang up with you”, and I did what everyone else probably did, I called home, talked to my dad, and said: “Dad, it looks like our nation is at war”. He said: “What??”. I said: “Yes, two planes went into the Twin Towers in New York. But don't worry, I'm in the Pentagon.” Then I called my colleague Bobby Shelby and with him I went down to the Naval Command Center, which was on the first floor. We had just spent the prior couple of weeks there setting up the computer network, because that's part of our job. We wanted to go there to figure out what was going on around the world because they have huge screens there. Bobby went ahead and said: “Danny, do you mind if I take a smoke break?” I said: “Okay, go ahead”. I had a clipboard with me, I usually don't take it with me, I opened my cellphone browser and I started reading about what was going on in New York, I could not believe it. After reading for a few minutes what was going to Bobby I said: “What's next? The Pentagon?”
And then: 3, 2, 1, BOOM!
The blast went off and it picked up Bobby and I and threw us a good distance. The building shook as if it was about to come down on us. I thought I'd die. I looked over, I could see Bobby and I knew he was injured pretty badly, I wasn't because I used the clipboard to protect my head. Anyway we were both able to get up and we ran to a pillar that was nearby, we figured it would hold up because the rest of the building was coming down around us. And when I looked towards the outside of the Pentagon we saw a big fireball that was coming in towards us. We ran towards the center of the courtyard and people started screaming: “You've been hit. You've been hit.” I didn't know what it meant, I looked down and I was covered with blood and I knew Bobby was pretty well hurt as well.
So we sat down and I realized my cellphone was knocked out of my hand, and I started reaching out, grabbing people's cellphones from off their waists, because I wanted to try and let my family know that I was alive. People kept saying: “You can have my phone, but it doesn't work.” I couldn't call out. A few moments later the Pentagon security came by to evacuate people, so we were carried out to the triage area where they were giving out ribbons around people's wrists. Green ribbon meant you were okay and you were going to survive, that's the color that I had. Yellow meant you needed treatment very soon but you were going to be alright, and that's the color that Bobby got. Red ribbon meant you would need medical treatment right away or you would die. The final one was the black ribbon for people who had perished.
While we were at the triage I could smell the burning flesh, I could hear the moans. We were part of the most horrible event of my life and of the history of my country. I could see the outside of the Pentagon, I could see where the plane had hit. There was the hole from where the plane went in and I was praying that people could make it out. They hit the wrong side of the Pentagon, it was the newly designed side, the walls were brand new and extra thick.
I started to pray for the day to slow down while paramedics kept running up and saying: “Get the hell out of here because there's a second plane coming.” I looked up in the air and I could see the fighter jets and I figured that we were safe. The doctor that was bandaging us up went back to assist others and all that I could hear was people yelling: “Where do I donate blood? Where do I donate blood?”
That's the spirit of America. No matter how bad the tragedy, there is always the opportunity for good things to happen.
As the doctor left, Bobby and I were sitting at the side of the street and a woman in a big SUV came over, rolled down her window, her name was Erin Anderson, and she told Bobby and I to get in and she'd take us to the hospital. We thought that was a miracle because there were no cars allowed to move around the Pentagon at that point and she picked us up and took us to the hospital.
I was lying next to a woman in the hospital who saw the plane coming in underneath her, on the floor underneath her. They did a very good job designing that new part of the building.
Bobby ended up getting transferred to another hospital because the wounds on his head needed special treatment. He is okay now physically, as well as I am, but emotionally and mentally, even if we are talking about twelve years ago, I'm telling you the story as if it was yesterday.
Undicisettembre: This person you mentioned, this Erin Anderson, is amazing. I guess you had a chance to ask her something like: “Why did you choose to do this? Why did you choose to put yourself in danger helping others?”
I kept in contact with her ever since, she's a very special woman and I can't be any more grateful for what she did. She was sitting at home and she felt she had to help somebody and I've always told to the audience I speak with that we all have an Erin Anderson within us. We all have the ability, when there's something going, to stand up and find the hero within and just go and offer help: and that's what she did! I hope the listeners of my lectures do that: we have God given talents that we can use every day. We don't need a 9/11 to find the hero within us, we just have to go out and look for people who need us.
Undicisettembre: What happened in the next few days? How was your recovery?
Dan Holdridge: I was brought back to a colleague of mine's home where I was trying to rest, but I wasn't sleeping. I didn't for several months. I would get a brief nap and then wake up thinking the second plane was coming. Being diagnosed for post traumatic stress disorder, you get a pretty healthy dose of reality that lives within you all the time. It makes you even more thankful for all the folks that are serving abroad in those countries like Iraq or Afghanistan because the post traumatic stress you get from a trauma of this magnitude lives with you forever. But the days after it was very hard, I lost the feeling on my left side because of the blast. I was trying to figure out how life was going to be, I was hoping the feeling was going to come back and I went to a hospital that was close to my parents' home.
When I went into the hospital saying I was a 9/11 survivor they thought I was from New York because it's closer to my parent’s home. So I said: “No, I'm from DC.” and that fascinated them, so I shared my story with the doctors. I knew at that point in time there was going to be a big change in my life, because people were only knowing me for being Dan, they didn't know me for being a survivor. I also had to figure out what that meant.
Undicisettembre: What are your thoughts about the firefighters, the police officers and the paramedics who risked their lives to save others?
Dan Holdridge: I think they are all heroes. I used an acronym in my book that you probably recall. It is “Help Everyone Regardless of Outcome”: H.E.R.O. I think it's so crucial for the public to thank them on a regular basis, and to show gratitude for what they do. It's one thing to say they are getting paid for doing what they do, but they are putting their lives in danger so that we can live safe in the freedom we enjoy. They made our country proud. They really represent what's great about America.
Undicisettembre: How does 9/11 affect your everyday life?
Dan Holdridge: It affects my life every day. I wake up to it and I go to bed with it. It's not as bad as it used to be. In my approach to life, to my work and to my family there's some element of 9/11 because it's based on appreciation. I appreciate every gift, every moment, every minute. I would have never done that prior to 9/11 but now I know how fast life can be taken from you. That's why I go around and I speak to audiences, I talk about it because people need to understand that all the things that life can offer have to be based on appreciation. Nothing is entitled in life, nothing at all. When people feel entitled to things in life, that's when negativity sets in and bad thing happen. Appreciating things removes all the fears from life, it removes all the things that cause you pain and focuses you on what's truly most important.
I share with audiences that for ninety minutes my family didn't know if I was alive. If in ninety minutes you are watching a great movie, they go by like nothing; but if for ninety minutes you are waiting to hear if one of your family members is alive, you can hear the tick tock of the clock. People go through this every day in hospitals and a lot of times it too late to tell people how you feel about them, it's too late to tell them what they mean to you in life. So I encourage everyone to take ninety minutes and tell the people how you feel: tell them you love them, tell them what they mean to you.
You just never know that there will be a tomorrow. We should all live our lives in that appreciation for the gifts that we have: the gifts of the time and of the moment. That how my life really changed after 9/11. You don't know what tomorrow is going to bring. When going to an obituary is too late to know how great a person is. This is what I came to when I went back to the Pentagon, I learnt about so many wonderful people who weren't around any more, and I came to the conclusion that I don't want that to happen to another person, I don't want to feel like I felt that day. And I hope in some way my sharing a message of appreciation can be helpful for others.
Undicisettembre: While at the Pentagon did you get a chance to see the hole in the facade?
Dan Holdrigde: I haven't seen it from inside, I've seen it from outside. On the inside I only saw the fireball that was coming towards us. From outside I saw what people didn't see before the news got there. I saw the hole that was there.
Undicisettembre: Did it look too small to have been done by an airplane?
Dan Holdridge: Oh, no! The fact is that the plane went into the Pentagon 530 miles per hour into a wall that was made of reinforced concrete. It had to disintegrate, but the remains of the plane were all there: wheels, pieces of fuselage. The real tragedy of that experience was the folks that said it wasn't a plane. These theories stamp on the lives of those who were lost on the plane or lost in the building. I keep praying that people who believe in conspiracy theories could use that energy and effort to go and volunteer at a soup kitchen, or to start a clothing drive for their local community, or to read at a school. That’s where their energy should be instead of coming up with this silly idea that maybe it wasn't a plane. How does it help anybody?
Undicisettembre: My next question is inevitably what you think about conspiracy theories. What are your thoughts about them?
Dan Holdridge: If they can explain how the American Airlines fuselage ended up in our work area, then I'm all ears. All the fuselage was in the parking lot of the Pentagon. I don't know how else to explain it. There were remains of the plane, where did they come from?
It's really hard for me to give time to those folks who come up with those theories, they think I could even validate their theories or think that their ideas are worth my time, which they obviously aren't.
Undicisettembre: While you were there at the Pentagon was anyone having doubts about the fact that a plane had hit the Pentagon?
Dan Holdridge: No, not at all. Having colleagues of mine who were on the way when the plane came in, it was pretty evident. Really, the first time I heard about conspiracy theories was from the internet. I just hope people who believe these theories can refocus their energy in making a world a better place.
There's no benefit in those theories, they are wasting people's time.
Undicisettembre: Do you think the country is still living in fear?
Dan Holdridge: I think it probably varies from person to person. The country as a whole is stronger. We have to be grateful to people who are providing our security and safety, we have to support them and thank them for all they are doing, because thanks to them we are still safe.