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Rotarians welcome 9/11 rescuer

Dan Pantaleo (right), a retired U.S. Marine Corps major and rescuer in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on Washington D.C., autographs a copy of his book for Oxford Rotarian Bill Huntoon. Pantaleo addressed the Rotary Club last week. Photo by Trevor Keiser. (click for larger version)
January 23, 2013 - When people think of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, most picture the World Trade Center, but often times forgotten were the events at the Pentagon in Washington DC, which is why Dan Pantaleo authored his book "Four Days at the Pentagon."

"I remember talking with my son and his friend who were ready to go off to college four or five years ago," Pantaleo said. "It was apparent when they started talking about 9/11, the events that changed history was they didn't know much about (the attack on the Pentagon). I realized because it didn't get much media attention. I looked back at the notes I kept from my time I was there and thought I needed to document it for history, so I did."

Pantaleo spoke about 9/11 and his book at the Jan. 15 meeting of the Rotary Club of Oxford. Like many people, Pantaleo could recall his morning prior to the attacks.

"I was actually arriving at my office which is three miles from the Pentagon at about 8 a.m.," he said. "I distinctly remember riding in a carpool that morning and noticing how bright and clear and crisp the day was."

After one of the planes crashed into the Pentagon, Pantaleo said evacuations in the entire capital region began immediately.

"From my office in Rosland Virgina, 3 miles from Pentagon, I could see the Pentagon burning and the smoke," he said. "We evacuated my office as most offices were doing at that time."

As they were evacuating, Pantaleo, who was Marine Corps major at the time, felt he had to do something.

"It was either run or fight," he said. "I actually ran toward the Pentagon and upon arriving I was shocked by the amount of chaos and confusion."

Pantaleo hooked up with a team that was setting up rescue and recovery operations. After four or five hours, he realized whoever was going to get out had probably already done so and they transitioned towards recovering bodies.

"We knew there would be a need for somebody to do the recovery of victims, so for the next four days I pretty much spent my entire time at the Pentagon heading up an organization called the IRRMT (Initial Response and Recovery Mortuary Team,)" he said. "Essentially our job was to go into the buildings and bring out the bodies and deliver them to the FBI forensics labs."

The IRRMT was comprised of volunteers and military personnel, and worked 18 hour days. Prior to Sept. 11, Pantaleo, who is a Michigan native, said it gave him a sense of pride being part of the "D.C. Machine," but as he was driving to the Pentagon on Sept. 12, he didn't feel that way.

"I was filled with a little bit of anger, sorrow, and a desire to take action," he said. "President Bush came by and he visited our site and we had an opportunity to brief him as to what we were doing and our actions."

That helped boost morale.

At the end of the second day Pantaleo said they had recovered "approximately 48 victims," because they weren't sure if they recovered a full body in some cases. He also said a Chaplin's tent was set up within the Pentagon compound.

"They were to provide counseling services and refuge for certain volunteers that may have been having difficulty with what they were experiencing," he said.

On his way home after the second day of work, Pantaleo said he couldn't help but notice all the flags displayed on houses throughout the northern Virginia region.

"It was amazing," he said. "It was said there was a run (on) American Flags. In fact, (during) the next week after 9/11, more flags were produced and sold in that time frame than had been produced and sold in the entire nine years combined before that."

During his third day of work, and being exhausted from lack of sleep, hot weather and "grueling, soul-sucking work," Pantaleo said he discovered something that "would eventually lift their spirits."

Reading an excerpt from his book, Pantaleo explained that during one of their breaks, they discovered a Marine Corps flag that was still standing intact amidst the total devastation and debris on the fourth floor.

"Though it was just a piece of cloth, what it stood for that morning was something none of us would ever forget," he read.

The recovery of the flag received a great deal of media attention and ended up on the front page of the Washington Post as well as CNN. They ended up taking the flag to the Marine Corps headquarters in Arlington, about a mile from the Pentagon. The flag story, he said is one of many stories of "symbolic and significant actions that ordinary Americans participated on that day and the days afterwards."

"The patriotism our country experienced at that time has never been higher. I would be willing to say we probably haven't seen it since," Pantaleo added. "I think it's something Americans struggle with (and) we should be proud of it."

According to records, approximately 3,000 people died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, which is 500 more people than the attack of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941

"I think it's important we never forget those people (or) the events of that fateful day," Pantaleo said.

Later, one Rotarian asked what they can do as individuals to make sure history doesn't get "re-written" for future generations.

"You can continue to keep 9/11 alive and the things that happened," Pantaleo said. "Sharing this information with the next generations is important. It's important they remember our history because that's what shapes who we are today."

"Four Days at the Pentagon," is available at www.createspace.com/3612431 or at Amazon.com. All proceeds from the book go to benefit the "Wounded Warrior Regiment."

The Rotary Club of Oxford meets every Tuesday at 12 noon at Oxford Hills Golf & Country Club located at 300 E. Drahner.

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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