CMH Home
CMH Home
CMH News and Features
U.S. Army Center of Military History
The Pentagon burning at night on 11 September 2001

11 September 2001

The view from the Old Guard

"We first arrived at 1400, on the day of the incident. My immediate reaction was just - I was just, you know, completely shocked, because of the fact that I work pretty much in view of the Pentagon almost every day . . . so I was used to seeing like the entire building, and just seeing a big, gaping hole, and smoke pouring out of it, and fire, I mean it was just . . . it was something I wasn’t expecting to see."

PFC Michael Chandler, Company C, 1st Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment,
speaking to Kim Holien, US Army Center of Military History,
at Fort Myer on 25 September 2001.

On the morning of 11 September 2001, five al-Qaeda hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the western side of the Pentagon. The initial crash and subsequent fires killed 183 people in addition to the hijackers; 64 passengers and crew on the Boeing 757-223 as well as 125 people in the Pentagon. Another 106 people on the ground were injured, many of them burn victims. In the days and weeks following the attack, hundreds of soldiers from the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), the U.S. Army’s official ceremonial unit and escort to the President based at nearby Fort Myer, Virginia, helped in the recovery effort, many of them working inside the shattered ruins of the Pentagon’s western side to recover remains and evidence.

For more stories of those who lived through the Pentagon attack or helped with the recovery effort, see: Lofgren, Stephen J. (ed.). Then Came The Fire: Personal Accounts from the Pentagon, 11 September 2001. Washington D.C.: US Army Center of Military History, 2011.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thank the workers there both military and civilian for the work in search and recovery

The day after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush visited the impact site to thank the workers there both military and civilian for the work they were doing in search and recovery, Sept. 12, 2001.
DOD photo by R. D. Ward

Excerpt from:
Department of the Army Historical Summary:
Fiscal Year 2001, pp.55-58
( CMH Pub 101-32-1 )
Download PDF

Attack on the Pentagon

On the morning of 11 September 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners in mid-flight over the eastern United States. At 8:46 a.m., the first airplane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, New York. At the time, General Shinseki was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, attending a conference of the chiefs of staff of Pacific nation armies. He telephoned Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans Maj. Gen. Phillip R. Kensinger, and Brig. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the director of operations, mobilization and readiness in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans. As General Shinseki was on the telephone, a second hijacked aircraft struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Following General Shinseki’s instructions, Generals Kensinger and Chiarelli activated the Army Operations Center’s Crisis Action Team to monitor the situation and began developing plans to respond to the disaster.

General Maude

General Maude

Approximately thirty minutes later, American Airlines Flight 77, hijacked by five terrorists as it left Dulles International Airport, crashed into the western side of the Pentagon. All onboard the aircraft, including the terrorists, fifty-eight passengers, and the flight’s six crewmembers, perished in the crash. The plane smashed through the first three rings of the Pentagon, spreading fire and smoke throughout the building and damaging the remaining two rings. A total of 125 Department of Defense personnel lost their lives in the attack. A further 106 received injuries that required hospitalization. The Department of the Army, with seventyfive dead, including twenty-two soldiers, forty-seven civilian employees, and six contractors, suffered more casualties than any other Department of Defense organization. (See Table 4.) Most of the Army’s losses were soldiers and civilians located in offices on the first and second floors of the Pentagon, between the fourth and sixth corridors. Two Department of the Army offices were particularly hard hit by the attack. Thirty-two civilians working for the Resource Management Directorate of the Office of the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army were killed. Twentysix personnel in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel lost their lives, including the deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude. He was the highest-ranking soldier to die in the attack.

General Keane, left, and Seretary White, 13 September 2001

General Keane, left, and Seretary White, 13 September 2001

After the initial shock of the attack wore off, personnel began to exit the stricken building, and military and civilians alike assisted in rescuing trapped coworkers and administering first aid. Responders from local city, county, state, and federal agencies swiftly and capably conducted most of the firefighting, medical care, and other emergency response tasks. A total of seventyseven HQDA personnel later received decorations for their actions or injuries sustained on the morning of 11 September.

Following the plane’s crash, almost all Department of the Army personnel evacuated the building, most heading for the parking lots or the courtyard in the center of the Pentagon. The Army Operations Center remained manned throughout the attack and its aftermath, and Secretary White and General Keane made their ways there to provide leadership and guidance. The vice chief of staff sent messages throughout the Army to inform subordinate commands that HQDA was still directing operations. Amid the hectic activity and confusion, the Army Operations Center staff removed Secretary White, despite his objection, to a remote location. Later, the staff realized that his relocation had not been required by the situation in accordance with contingency plans. The evacuation of Secretary White left General Keane in charge at the Pentagon for the remainder of the day.

Despite the destruction caused by the impact of the airliner, the Pentagon still stood. The damage to the building would have been greater had the plane not struck an area recently improved and reinforced during an extensive, years-long renovation project. Although parts of the Pentagon remained filled with flame and smoke, the grim work of recovering the dead began the next morning. Soldiers of the 3d Infantry (The Old Guard) received the task of collecting remains, which they turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation after proper military honors and respects were rendered.

General Van Alstyne

General Van Alstyne

As recovery efforts continued, the Department of Defense established a family assistance center based at the Sheraton Hotel in nearby Crystal City, Virginia. There, the families of victims received counseling and medical and legal advice. The center ultimately came under control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy Lt. Gen. John A. Van Alstyne provided the leadership and day-today supervision necessary for the center to perform its sensitive and important duties.

Operation Noble Eagle, the domestic response to the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, began on 15 September 2001. President Bush authorized the mobilization of ten thousand Army reservists and guardsmen, along with thousands of reservists from the other armed services. The mobilized soldiers performed homeland defense missions, such as guarding the attack sites and airports, as well as civil support missions. Operation Noble Eagle continued on into the next fiscal year as planning began for Operation Enduring Freedom, the retaliatory strike against al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

Soldiers from A Company, 3rd Infantry – "The Old Guard" -- gather the giant garrison flag

Soldiers from A Company, 3rd Infantry – "The Old Guard" -- gather the giant garrison flag being lowered from the side of the Pentagon, where it had hung beside the impact site of the 9/11 terrorist attack, Oct. 11, 2001. The flag was ceremonially retired.
DoD photo by Jim Garamone

About The Old Guard

The 3d Infantry Regiment, traditionally known as "The Old Guard," has served our nation since 1784. The 1st and 4th Battalions of the Old Guard are the Army's official ceremonial units and provide escort to the president. The battalions also provide security for Washington, D.C., in time of national emergency or civil disturbance. The 2d Battalion is stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, where it is assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2d Infantry Division, and has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan for the War on Terrorism.

The unit received its unique Special Designation from Gen. Winfield Scott during a victory parade at Mexico City in 1847 following its valorous performance in the Mexican War. Fifty-two campaign streamers attest to the 3d Infantry Regiment's long history of service, which spans from the Battle of Fallen Timbers to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 1948, The Old Guard has served as the official Army Honor Guard and escort to the president. In that capacity, 3d Infantry Regiment soldiers are responsible for the conduct of military ceremonies at the White House, the Pentagon, national memorials and elsewhere in the nation's capital. In addition, soldiers of The Old Guard maintain a 24-hour vigil at the Tomb of the Unknowns, provide military funeral escorts at Arlington National Cemetery.

1st Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment
The Old Guard’s 1st Battalion conducts military ceremonies to honor our fallen comrades and instill confidence in our civilian leaders and the American people in the professionalism of the U.S. Army. On order, 1st Battalion can deploy companies.

2d Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment
The Old Guard’s 2d Battalion’s most recent activation was in March 2001 as part of the first brigade equipped with the Stryker combat vehicle. It is currently assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 2d Infantry Division, and has deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan.

4th Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment
The Old Guard’s 4th Battalion conducts ceremonies in order to maintain the traditions of the U.S. Army, showcase the Army to our nation’s citizens and the world and to defend the dignity and honor of our fallen comrades. On order, 4th Battalion protects federal property and assists civilian authorities in the National Capital Region in order to limit the effects of attacks or disasters.

The 3d U.S. Infantry, The Old Guard

The 3d U.S. Infantry, The Old Guard