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Tragedy at the Pentagon — A 9/11 story

by RUTH ARESVIK/Veterans Help Net Correspondent
| August 24, 2021 1:07 AM

REFER:

Veterans' Press inside today/A4-A5

Where were you when you heard the news?

It's a date that needs no explanation. This Sept. 11th will mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on America that toppled the World Trade Center towers, penetrated the Pentagon and changed a field in Somerset County, Pa., into hallowed ground.

Someone says "9/11," and conversations start. As a Navy Wave, I had worked at the Pentagon during the mid-'70s for Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Zumwalt. Hearing and seeing the news about the Pentagon on that fateful day broke my military heart.

For Kenneth Johnson of Rathdrum, 9/11 brings back much more.

"It was a perfect September morning," Johnson said. "A slight breeze — crisp, cool — just a great day to be supporting our country working at the Pentagon."

Johnson, an Army sergeant first class, worked as the property book officer & logistics coordinator for the chief of staff of the Army. He had been there since the spring of 1995.

His fiancée, Molly, was a civilian analyst in the Army Budget Office as of 1981. "That's how we met," said Johnson. "And I had just proposed on Friday, Sept. 7, 2001."

That Tuesday morning, 9/11, they commuted together to the Pentagon. Because of fiscal year close-out activities, they arrived early for work, by 4:30 a.m.

"We parted for our individual offices," Johnson said.

He later left the building for a meeting. After the meeting, he returned to the Pentagon via the Metro subway system. As the train pulled into the station, he "heard a thunderous noise. I started up the escalator and into the building when a rush of personnel screaming and crying started exiting, saying the Pentagon had just been attacked."

It was impossible to re-enter the building, so he rushed to the south side heliport area where the plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

Being a trained combat lifesaver, Johnson immediately joined others. For 22 hours straight, he worked with rescue personnel until 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, all the while constantly paging Molly and trying to locate her.

"My office only received smoke and water damage from the attack," Johnson said, "but Molly's office was in the direct path of the hijacked plane. During the early hours of the recovery, it was impossible to determine from the outside, the exact location of the numbered offices. I worked beside another soldier who feared for his fiancée also.

"We put it in our heads that their respective offices were to the left of the collapsed section, and that maybe … maybe … they had escaped. But on Wednesday morning, when we had the chance to review blueprints, we realized we were wrong. They weren't to the left, they weren't to the right. They had been dead-center.

"The hardest thing was to go home without her, to see her new car parked in the driveway, or her hairbrush on the counter."

After a month and a day of waiting, Molly's body was identified by the staff at Dover Air Force Base. Two weeks later, she was laid to rest near her father in Ephrata, Pa.

"Molly was the devoted mother of two sweet girls, Lea (age 14) and Alana (age 11)," Johnson said. "She was a talented singer and musician who played the clarinet and the piano. She always had a smile and was a true and loyal friend. She was a devout Christian who read her Bible every day before going to sleep."

More than 215 attended her memorial service.

Johnson left the Army but stayed on at the Pentagon in his same position as a Department of the Army civilian.

"Staying on at the Pentagon after 9/11 was difficult," Johnson said. "Even though sensors were installed to prove otherwise, I (like others) could still smell jet fuel in the building."

In 2008, Ken said goodbye to the Pentagon and accepted a position with TSA — Transportation Security Agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, created in November 2001 as a response to the 9/11 attacks.

"It seemed fitting for me to come here. I had been at the Pentagon for 13 years," Johnson said.

Sometime later, Ken met Desiree through Christian Mingle. They dated for about eight months online and via phone calls.

Desiree lived in Idaho; Ken was still in Washington, D.C. They finally arranged to meet in person and hug each other for the first time. He proposed the next day and they married shortly after.

Johnson was able to take a position in Government Property Administration at the Hanford Nuclear Site in the Tri-Cities, Wash., and join his wife to start their married life. He retired in 2020 after a total of 34 years combined service to our country.

Ken and Desiree enjoy their retired life on their property on Rathdrum Mountain. He is involved with church activities and is a member of the Rathdrum American Legion Post No. 154, where he is part of their Honor Guard.

A total of 2,996 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks: 2,763 at the World Trade Center, including 403 firefighters, paramedics and police officers; 189 at the Pentagon; and 44 when the plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

This September, our country will honor the fallen with various ceremonies and television documentaries. There will be many ways to watch, pay tribute and commemorate this date in history. Kenneth Johnson will be at the Pentagon.

Rathdrum remembers 9/11 with ceremony

The city of Rathdrum will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks with a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 11 in front of City Hall on Main Street. The event will feature photo displays, flags, a memorial wreath and music. Rathdrum American Legion Post No. 154 will conduct the ceremony with comments from several local dignitaries.

The remembrance will honor the first responders and heroes who fearlessly gave their lives, and all those who worked to protect and defend our country on that tragic day.

photo

FBI via AP

This undated photo provided by the FBI shows damage to the Pentagon caused during the 9/11 attacks.

photo

Kenneth Johnson