By Candace Hewitt, This Week in the Pentagon Producer
Later this year the United States will commemorate a sad anniversary – 10 years since the September 11th terrorist attacks. A lot has happened in the wake of 9/11. The United States went to war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Commercial flying changed forever. And the Department of Homeland Security was created, now one of the largest branches of the federal government. Along with these sweeping changes are lesser-known events that also served to remind us all how our lives changed forever. One of those took place this past weekend in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
When the Pentagon was attacked on September 11th, Arlington, Virginia police officers were the first to respond. Emergency, fire and rescue workers pulled people from the building saving lives. The community of Arlington also provided critical support. And the Pentagon, itself located in Arlington, had numerous military and civilian employees come together to help out in the aftermath of the tragedy. As a reminder of that heroism, the Navy named it newest amphibious transport dock ship, USS Arlington March 26th. Not only does the namesake honor those who responded to the attack, but it’s a remembrance to the 184 victims who were in the Pentagon, and on American Airlines Flight #77. Steel from the Pentagon will be on display aboard the ship.
USS Arlington is one of three ships built to honor the victims, and the heroes of 9/11. USS New York was christened in 2008 and USS Somerset named after the county in Pennsylvania where United Flight #93 crashed, is still being built.
When the Pentagon Memorial opened to the public in 2008 on the seventh anniversary of the attacks, I remember interviewing a firefighter from the Arlington Country Fire Department who was first on the scene. He was a rookie at the time, four months out of recruit school and it was his first “big fire” as he put it. The day began just like any other, until the call came over the radio that a plane went down somewhere near the 14th Street bridge, which he says, he knew was near the Pentagon.
When he pulled up on scene he vividly described seeing the letter C from the American Airlines plane in the debris. That in and of its self, he says, reminded him that he had a job to do – save lives. The rookie entered the Pentagon which was full of black smoke, limited visibility and wreckage – to save lives. Parts of the building, he said, began to collapse all around, but he kept saying he had a job to do – save lives. When I go back and revisit stories like the one told by the rookie firefighter, I’m reminded how fitting it is that USS Arlington, and other namesake ships, will now serve as a lasting tribute to those whose lives were taken, and those heroes who stepped forward to save the lives of many others.
You can catch the christening of USS Arlington on the April 1st edition of “This Week in the Pentagon.”