Even though it has been 13 years since the horrific events that took place on 9-11-2001, these events have forever changed our country. I still like to ask people, “Where were you and what were you doing when 9-11 took place?” People share their stories with me and I love to hear them. This is how I learned Jon Connors story.
Jon works as a public affairs specialist at Rock Island Arsenal, IL. Jon graduated from Milwaukee Area Technical College with an associate degree in television production. Then he went on to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mass-Com/Journalism. Jon joined the U.S. Army when he was 26 years old. He is an excellent photographer, writer, interviewer and videographer. I was so surprised by Jon’s story. His strength and faith in God encouraged and inspired me, I felt compelled to share his story!
At the time of 9-11, Jon was serving our country as a master sergeant in the office of the Chief of Army Public Affairs in the Pentagon as chief of Army Newspapers. This was a position that he had been nominated for and was appointed a four-year term. Jon had been working there for one year when this tragedy occurred at the Pentagon. He shared with me the events that took place that day, forever etched in his memory.
That morning he was sitting in his boss’ office watching in anguish along with millions of other Americans. Jon and another co-worker along with their boss, Bill Drobnick, chief of Command Information, watched the devastating images on the television of the jets that had hit the Twin Towers in New York City. Jon’s boss Bill said something like: “If that could happen there, it could happen here at the Pentagon?” Jon never imagined what his boss said would come true that very morning at 9:38 AM.
Jon had just left his boss’ office when the American Airlines Boeing 757 hit the north-west slice of the five-sided building. He then described the sights and sounds that ensued. He said it sounded like an extremely loud thud that impacted the Pentagon; it seemed the air pressure changed in the building as people started yelling and running into the hallways, thousands of people panic-stricken all trying to get out of the building. Jon described it as chaotic. His first thought was that boiler had exploded in the Pentagon. When he finally managed to make it safely outside he could see the thick, black smoke billowing up into the sky on the other side of America’s fortress. No one knew what was happening yet where he and others were gathering, nor did they know that they had been victims of a deadly terrorist attack. Eventually no one had cell phone service and even the transit rail system was shut down. Eventually, they found out what really happened when their cell phones resumed service.
Jon, along with so many others, walked to the metro station to get home as soon as possible. He didn’t make it home until about 1:30 p.m. He said all he could think about was getting home to his wife and his twin girls – who were then 4 years old. When he finally got home, he held his family in his arms and felt so blessed. At the same time, he said remembered all those who would never be able to return to their spouses, children and other family members. He felt a deep sense of loss for them and knew it could have been him not returning home to his loving family.
As we know, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, ordered everyone back to work the next day. Rumsfeld wanted to send a clear message to the enemy that even though we were attacked, America was still strong and the enemy could not take us out! The Pentagon would carry on and resume business-as-usual the next day.
Jon also shared with me the story of a fellow comrade that was a true hero. Staff Sgt. Christopher Braman went above and beyond the call of duty that fateful day. His acts of heroism would later be told in national media. The Pentagon was like a war zone that day and had all the sights and sounds of combat. Jon said that Braman shared with him – for a story that Jon was writing on the one-year anniversary — the horrible memory of the fire and the screams of the victims whose faces would later haunt him. “I actually saw what death looks like straight in the eyes. I touched it, smelled it, and tasted it,” Braman said of those trapped in the Pentagon.
Braman told Jon that he attributed his special Ranger training for thinking fast on his feet. Rangers never leave a fallen comrade at any cost, he said. Braman stayed at the horrific scene for three stressful and exhausting days looking for any sign of life. In the course of one search, Braman heard a clapping noise. As he went towards the sound he saw a woman, she was unable to speak because of severe smoke inhalation. The woman’s name was Sheila Moody, an Army civilian accountant. She called Braman her “Guardian Angel”. Braman became a changed man after 9-11; he reaffirmed his relationship with God and looked at life differently now. Braman said he has an inner peace and strength he never had before.
Jon said that people from the Pentagon changed after 9-11. People greeted each other in the hallways instead of walk-racing like they had always done. It didn’t matter what rank or position they held; they took time to say “Hello” and ask, “How are you?” People were genuine in their concern for one another. This lasted for a couple of months, Jon said.
Even though Jon didn’t personally know anyone that passed away that day, he quickly learned about what was happening in their lives through memorials that were set-up in the Pentagon. The memorials told about who they were and what they were doing the last few days of their lives. Some people were coming out of difficult relationships while others were doing well in their lives and making plans for the future. Nevertheless, they didn’t know that day would be their last. All the old clichés — life is short, life is precious and live life to the fullest — suddenly became so important and very real again for those at the Pentagon and America.
Never forget September 11 2001! What were you doing that day that the world changed? With all the unrest in the Middle East, we are living in uncertain times. We can be thankful for all those that have served our country in the past, those who are currently serving and those who will protect us in the future. These are the people that make us a strong and a great nation. We can all be thankful for their service. We are the people of the United States of America; in God we can trust!