CLEAR LAKE — About 250 people gathered at the Clear Lake Fire Department last night for their annual 9/11 Memorial program.
The guest speaker was Captain Stephen Johnson, a native of Rosemount Minnesota who had a distinguished career in the Navy, which included working at the Pentagon on the morning of the 9/11 attacks. Johnson was working in the second most-inner ring of the section where a 757 aircraft slammed into the building.
Johnson says had it not been for the Pentagon’s mainly concrete structure when built in 1941 and later upgrades like steel reinforcement and blast-proof windows, it’s likely people near where he was working wouldn’t have survived. Johnson says only 800 people out of 5000 had moved back into that section of the Pentagon as renovations were ongoing.
He says the plane didn’t directly hit the Pentagon as they believe the White House was the original target and the Pentagon was the secondary target. “The hijackers had to put the plane into a steep, spiraling dive to come around towards the Pentagon. Flight 77 turned almost in a complete circle and accelerated to 540 miles an hour as it dove toward the Pentagon. As it approached the building, it hit several light posts and an emergency generator, and importantly it hit the ground first before smashing into the first floor of the E ring.”
Johnson says he and his co-workers felt fortunate to be alive as there were many factors that contributed to fewer lives being lost that day at the Pentagon. “It wasn’t 5000 people that were in the path of the aircraft, it was only us 800, and they hit the only Pentagon wedge with automatic fire doors, a modern sprinkler system, armored walls, and blast-resistant windows. If not for all these factors combined, studies have concluded that the death toll would have been in excess of 4000 people. The hijackers that hit the one spot, the only spot where they would cause the least possible amount of damage.”
Johnson concluded by thanking people for showing up for last night’s ceremony. “I’d like to thank you all for supporting your military and for supporting your first responders, and for continuing to remember what happened at the World Trade Center. Especially the heroism of hundreds of New York City firefighters who gave their lives saving thousands of people, and for remembering the passengers of United Flight 93 who fought back and likely saved the Capitol building, and for continuing to remember what happened to my friends and co-workers in the Pentagon 22 years ago.”
It was the 12th year the Clear Lake Fire Department held a ceremony commemorating the September 11th attacks, with the first being when they brought back a piece of World Trade Center steel in 2011 and placed it as a memorial in front of the Fire Department in 2012.
Listen back to Monday’s program via the audio player below.