Tragedy at the Pentagon – A 9/11 Story

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Veteran press today inside / A4-A5

Where were you when you heard the news?

It is a date that needs no explanation. This September 11th will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on America that collapsed the World Trade Center towers, penetrated the Pentagon, and turned a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania into sacred ground.

Someone says “9/11” and conversations begin. As Navy Wave, I had worked at the Pentagon in the mid-1970s for Admiral Zumwalt, Chief of Naval Operations. Hearing and seeing the news about the Pentagon on that fateful day broke my heart in the military.

For Kenneth Johnson of Rathdrum, 9/11 brings back a lot more.

“It was a perfect September morning,” said Johnson. “A light breeze – fresh, cool – just a great day to support our country at work in the Pentagon.”

Johnson, an Army first class sergeant, served as the non-fiction officer and logistics coordinator for the Army Chief of Staff. He had been there since the spring of 1995.

His fiancée Molly was a civilian analyst in the Army Budget Office from 1981. “That’s how we met,” said Johnson. “And I had just filed an application on Friday, September 7th, 2001.”

That Tuesday morning, September 11th, they commuted to the Pentagon together. Due to the activities at the end of the fiscal year, they came to work at 4:30 a.m.

“We split up for our individual offices,” said Johnson.

He later left the building for a meeting. After the meeting, he returned to the Pentagon via the Metro’s subway system. As the train pulled into the station, “he heard a thunderous noise. I was going up the escalator and into the building when a rush of screaming and crying staff got out and said the Pentagon had just been attacked.”

It was impossible to re-enter the building, so he rushed to the south helipad where the plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

A trained combat lifesaver, Johnson immediately joined others. He worked with rescue workers for 22 hours straight through 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning, constantly beeping Molly and trying to find her.

“My office only sustained smoke and water damage from the attack,” said Johnson, “but Molly’s office was right in the path of the hijacked aircraft. Location of the numbered offices I worked next to another soldier who was also concerned about his fiancée.

“We got it into our heads that their respective offices are to the left of the collapsed section and that maybe … maybe … they escaped. They weren’t left, they weren’t right, they were right in the middle.

“The hardest part was going home without her, seeing her new car parked in the driveway, or her hairbrush on the counter.”

After a month and day of waiting, Dover Air Force Base personnel identified Molly’s body. Two weeks later she was buried near her father in Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

“Molly was the devoted mother to two adorable girls, Lea (age 14) and Alana (age 11),” said Johnson. “She was a talented singer and musician who played the clarinet and piano. She always had a smile and was a faithful and faithful friend. She was a devout Christian who read the Bible every day before bed.”

More than 215 attended their memorial ceremony.

Johnson left the Army but remained in the Pentagon in the same position as a Department of the Army civilian.

“Staying at the Pentagon after 9/11 was difficult,” said Johnson. “Even though sensors were installed to prove otherwise, I (like others) could still smell kerosene in the building.”

In 2008, Ken left the Pentagon and accepted a position with the TSA – the Transportation Security Agency, part of the US Department of Homeland Security, founded in November 2001 in response to the September 11th attacks.

“It seemed appropriate to me to come here. I had been in the Pentagon for 13 years,” said Johnson.

Some time later Ken met Desiree through Christian Mingle. They were together online and by phone for about eight months.

Desiree lived in Idaho; Ken was still in Washington, DC. They ended up dating and hugging for the first time. He proposed the next day and they married shortly afterwards.

Johnson was able to take a job in the state real estate administration at the Hanford Nuclear Site in the Tri-Cities, Washington, and begin their married life with his wife. After a total of 34 years of service in our country, he retired in 2020.

Ken and Desiree are enjoying their retired lives on their property on Rathdrum Mountain. He participates in church activities and is a member of the Rathdrum American Legion Post No. 154, where he’s part of their honor guard.

A total of 2,996 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks: 2,763 in the World Trade Center, including 403 firefighters, paramedics and police officers; 189 at the Pentagon; and 44 when the plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

This September, our country will honor the fallen with various ceremonies and television documentaries. There will be many ways to see, honor, and commemorate this date in history. Kenneth Johnson will be at the Pentagon.

Rathdrum remembers 9/11 with ceremony

The city of Rathdrum will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 with a ceremony on Saturday, September 11th at 10 am in front of City Hall on Main Street. The event includes photo exhibitions, flags, a memorial wreath, and music. Rathdrum American Legion Post No. 154 will conduct the ceremony with commentary from several local dignitaries.

The memory will honor the first responders and heroes who fearlessly gave their lives and all those who worked to protect and defend our country on this tragic day.

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