Ripley resident saw 9/11 attacks firsthand

For most in Brown County, the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 were felt indirectly, and only seen through television images and radio interviews.

But for one current Ripley resident, the damage of the attacks was visible right in front of his eyes.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Danny Price was working with the U.S. Department of Defense as a senior policy analyst for the Army and worked in an office building across the street from the Pentagon, often traveling there for official military and state business.

Price worked with the Pentagon for a total of 15 years.

Price was on the phone when he first learned of the terrorist attack into the Pentagon, as a co-worker in the cubicle across from him said that the building was on fire. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.

Everyone in his office had already seen what happened to the World Trade Center towers, but according to Price, no one had yet put two and two together to realize that the plane crashes were connected. The Pentagon is just a couple of miles away from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and planes used to fly overhead regularly.

As Price explained, the Pentagon is so large that it’s possible to work there and not have heard, felt, or known what happens on the other side of the building.

“The building itself is the character of the Department of Defense,” Price said. “It’s a massive structure.”

Perhaps ironically, Price was getting ready at the time of the attack to head over to the Pentagon to deploy for a disaster training exercise. Instead, he and his co-workers were told to stay in his office.

“They weren’t letting anybody in the Pentagon,” Price said. “I just stayed in my office and waited. Finally 10 minutes later someone called and said the Pentagon was hit by an airplane. Our awareness was increased. Our country was under attack on a much broader scale than the two attacks at the World Trade Center. If you’re striking the Pentagon it’s a very serious situation.”

As Price learned more details, phone lines went down throughout the city and traffic came to a halt. Price’s wife Jill and son Blake were unable to reach him until the afternoon, and Price admitted that they were both shaken up. His daughter Brandyn, who was enlisted in the U.S. Army at the time, also couldn’t get a hold of him. It wasn’t until around 2 or 3 p.m., that they were able to get through to their father. By the time Price returned home, he says he had nearly 40 voice mails from concerned family members.

While Price was told to stay in his office building, his colleagues at the Pentagon were being evacuated from the building into the north and south parking lots.

Price said thanks to a stroke of luck more didn’t die in the Pentagon that day. The building was in the middle of a 20-year construction plan that called for major renovations of the building, and the west side that the Boeing 757 crashed into was mostly empty due to recently completed renovations. 125 people died in the Pentagon, but “there were thousands less people there than if it were fully occupied,” Price said.

By mid-afternoon, Price and his colleagues were directed to go home, but they encountered gridlock of epic proportions, with public transit shut down.

“It was total chaos,” Price said. “Everything was stopped. The Pentagon was burning. We didn’t know if the fourth plane was going to the Capitol Building or the Pentagon. Traffic just stopped.”

“I walked several miles before I could find a ride home. I finally got home at about 10 o’clock that night.”

The Department of Defense asked all their employees to return to work the next day, and Price remembered seeing the west roof of the Pentagon still on fire as he entered the building for meetings.

“I thought ‘“Boy this is the only place in the world where you walk into a building on fire and work’,” Price said.

Price said one of his strongest memories was the instant patriotism shown by residents in Washington D.C., with many people playing the Star Spangled Banner, waving American flags and attaching them to their vehicles, and putting out tables in front of their home to pass out water to help their neighbors.

“It was amazing to me the spirit that people had,” Price said. “It was like this great low. We thought, ‘oh man what has just happened.’ This is something that in all my military training, we hadn’t thought so much about this kind of attack. What do we do next.?

“I was just amazed that the American spirit that came to life that day and then for weeks thereafter.”

Price didn’t know anyone who died in the attack, but he did know several people who were injured, including one that suffered severe burns from the flames.

The Sept. 11 attacks proved to be a major turning point for both the United States and Price’s family.

A week after the attacks, Price’s son Blake enlisted in the U.S. Army and later served in three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. And for the Pentagon, the formerly open building became a “bastion of security.”

“At that time, before Sept. 11, the Pentagon was nearly open (to everyone),” Price said. “Just about anyone could walk into the Pentagon at that time. There was security at the door but they weren’t really there to check on visitors, just to deal with a security situation. That’s the way the Pentagon was.”

“The Metro (subway) at that time had an exit right inside the Pentagon. That’s where thousands of people came to work each day. After September 11 they closed all of that. They set up massive security at the Pentagon and closed the Metro station. Now the Pentagon is the bastion of security. They completely changed all the entrances. Even me, and I worked there another 12 years, I had to have another bar code, to enter.”

“The Pentagon became literally a very closed building. Therefore all our business practices changed.”

With the help of contractors and laborers working “beyond the call of duty,” as Price calls it, the U.S. rebuilt the damaged west side of the Pentagon in less than one year, as the focus in the building shifted to the wars in Afghanistan and later Iraq.

“We started to plan and do other things to respond,” Price said. “We were a resilient organization. Everything we did from that point on for the next four to five years was the global war on terror. It changed our life completely.”

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Danny Price was working in an office outside the Pentagon with the U.S. Department of Defense and recalls how the September 11 attacks changed everything. U.S. Army Colonel Danny Price was working in an office outside the Pentagon with the U.S. Department of Defense and recalls how the September 11 attacks changed everything.
Price remembers day at the Pentagon

By Daniel Karell

Reach Daniel Karell at 937-378-6161. Follow him on Twitter @GNDKarell