9-11: Old Flags, Sheer Terror, and Red Begonias

Keith's note: I have lived in the Metro Washington DC area for 33 years - more than half my life. When I first moved to DC to work at NASA HQ I lived in Pentagon City directly across from the Pentagon in the River House III apartment building. The Pentagon was what I saw outside my window every single day. In the afternoons after work I often used to run on the road between the old heliport and the west side of the Pentagon - right where American Airlines Flight 77 struck. This image still makes me shudder. As I would run by I'd always note a window where the yellow crane is in the left side of the image. There was always a red begonia in the window. I could easily drag my fingers on the smooth limestone surface of the building as I ran by. There was simply no real security back then.

Had I still lived in my old apartment on 9-11 this horror would have unfolded outside my home's window. A friend of mine was driving to work and saw the plane come in. Others I knew were in the building and felt the impact. On a stunningly beautiful day we had been attacked in a brutal way by an unknown enemy.

I was home in Reston, Virginia near Dulles Airport desperately trying to post accurate info on NASAWatch. I was getting calls from NASA HQ about a plane circling the Mall and of another one coming up the Potomac. No one knew what was going on. American Airlines Flight 77 flew out of Dulles and almost certainly flew over my house. Later that day the skies went silent and jet fighters buzzed my house. One of my neighbors never came home.

One thing I'll never forget the flag someone had spontaneously draped across the railing atop the pedestrian bridge on Wiehle Avenue near my house the day after the attack. It was an old 48 star flag. It looked to have been folded in triangular fashion many, many years ago and had only been unfolded that day ...

I stayed away from downtown for several weeks since the Pentagon area was a mess. When I did eventually drive into town I saw that the State Route 110 exit sign from I-66 toward the Pentagon said "CLOSED". It all hit me again. A week or so later when I first saw the Pentagon from 110 when it reopened I almost hit another car since I was making the exit to Pentagon City. That scar on the building was overwhelming. A few minutes later I stood atop the Pentagon City parking garage and could see it in all of its gruesome glory. I was weak in the knees. I used to look out on this building for 3 years every single day. Now it bore a wound that defied belief.

Just the other day I was being driven into town to do a TV interview and the driver drove down the diverted path State Route 110 now takes around the Pentagon, I could still see the path it once took. I could also see places I used to run that are now behind fortified fencing. It is impossible to see that window on the other side of the Pentagon where the red begonias once bloomed due to fortifications that have since been built. A memorial now stands where I used to run.

The office with the flowers was devastated and has since been replaced. I'd like to think that the new occupants like begonias.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on September 11, 2019 12:00 AM.

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