Watching the Pentagon Burn: ABC’s Martha Raddatz Remembers 9/11

I was at home in Arlington, Virginia, a few miles from the Pentagon, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  I began frantically making calls to try to figure out what was happening when the second plane struck.

My husband, who is a journalist as well, was doing the same.  He headed for the Pentagon to report for his news organization and I headed for the State Department.

While I was driving  across the Potomac River,  I called my daughter who was a junior at Amherst College in Massachusetts and my then 9-year-old son’s  school in D.C to make sure the school was not dismissing early. My daughter told me that a girl upstairs in her dormitory had a sister who worked in the upper floors of the World Trade Center  and she was watching the images in horror (we later learned her sister was indeed killed when the first plane hit).

The State Department was being refurbished so the press was in a downstairs temporary facility with one large TV. My young producer Phuong Nguyen was already glued to the images.  Before we knew any details about where the planes came from I remember thinking that no U.S. pilot would ever fly into those buildings, even if there was a gun to his or her head, so I assumed that the planes must somehow been stolen.  Officials  I was calling assumed the same.

Nothing made sense that day.  And then less than 20 minutes after arriving at the State Department there was a report of an explosion at the Pentagon.  Just before we evacuated the State Department it was confirmed that a plane had hit the Pentagon, although it was unclear on which side it had hit.

It was chaos outside.  As soon as we were outside we heard reports there was a car bomb that had gone off at the State Department.  I knew that was not true and reported that to ABC.  Then Phuong and I walked to the Memorial Bridge, the one behind the Lincoln Memorial and I looked across the river toward Virginia.  A huge pillar of black smoke was coming from the Pentagon.

Like the majority of Washingtonians,  once the plane hit the Pentagon my cell phone was not working, so I could not call  my husband to see if he was okay. But I am an optimist and rightly assumed that since the reporters I had heard broadcast the news of the plane hitting the Pentagon were in the same part of the building as he was, that he was okay.

I spent the day on that historic bridge watching the Pentagon burn, smelling it, and seeing fighter jets streaking down the Potomac.  I knew I would not be back home for a very long time and that when I finally did, all of our lives would be changed.

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