Remembering Sept. 11, 2001
Posted By Kim Swindell Wood | September 11, 2019 4:30 am
Last Updated: September 11, 2019 at 4:38 am
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by The Expositor several years ago but is still relevant today as we approach the 18th anniversary of the terrorists’ attacks on the United States, on Sept. 11, 2001. Lt. Col. Al Klee, ret., who now resides in White County, was present at the Pentagon on the day that will forever be embedded in the minds of all Americans.
On a beautiful September morning, Al Klee was preparing for his new job with the Secretary of Defense office, at the Pentagon, in Washington D.C. He had previously worked in the information operations department of the Pentagon and was looking forward to his new position.
“My years of duty, in Washington D.C., were focused on computer systems and warfare, resource management, and policy development,” said Klee, who served on the county commission after moving to White County several years ago.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, Klee reported for duty for his new assignment. After attending a few meetings, he returned to his old office to clear out his desk and then make his way to the newly renovated portion of the Pentagon for another meeting, at 9 a.m.
As he made his way across the Pentagon, he stopped in the five-acre open area in the middle of the building and met with a friend, Lt. Col. David Scales.
“We discussed family and work issues and then went to our respective areas for work,” Klee recalled.
Klee went to his old office, in the Pentagon’s basement, and Scales returned to his side of the building. As Klee was leaving his old office, his department received word of a major plane crash, in New York City.
“We watched on CNN as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center, and our speculations that this was more than an accident were confirmed,” said Klee.
The 9 a.m. meeting that he was set to attend was quickly forgotten as the Pentagon began operations to determine what had happened and how to recover.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., a third hijacked airplane, Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon.
“Many were knocked from their chairs,” said Klee. “Ceiling tiles fell, dust and smoke billowed through the hallways, and the lights went out. The emergency power came on for minimal lighting, and we were told to evacuate the building.
“When you think about it this [the Pentagon] is probably one of the safest buildings in the country,” Klee continued. “For many of us, we consider it one of the safest buildings in the world.”
While Klee made his way through the subterranean hallway, he met a group of civilians who were visiting the Pentagon to attend a meeting. The group appeared confused and wasn’t sure where to go, so Klee led them out of the building.
“After exiting the building, I saw that there were thousands of people outside the building,” said Klee.
Those emerging from the building were met with thick, billowing smoke. Sirens and screams rang through the area. No one was allowed back into the building.
Klee walked a mile and a half to Crystal City, adjacent to the Pentagon, to where his wife, Winnie Neubauer, a U.S. Army master sergeant, was working. Cell phone towers were out, and communications were down.
“We acknowledged each other and continued to work until a senior officer told us to depart the area, go home, and wait for orders,” said Klee.
He and his wife walked approximately seven miles to their home.
“Our vehicle was in the Pentagon parking lot, and the roads were at a standstill due to congestion and emergency vehicle passage,” he said.
Hours after the attacks, Klee and Neubauer were finally able to contact friends and family to let them know they were alive and well.
Klee was later called back into the office to work that night to maintain operations and assist in supporting those in control of fire control and search and rescue.
“It was strange,” Klee said of the Pentagon after the attack. “I remember coming out of the basement in the middle of the night and standing in the middle of the building’s open area looking at a large number of body bags lying on the grass. This was certainly a somber moment, one never to be forgotten, to realize that our country had been attacked internally.”
Klee’s friend, Scales, was one of the 125 casualties at the Pentagon that day. Including the 54 passengers on Flight 77 and the five hijackers, there were a total of 189 casualties at the Pentagon site.
One year later, the section of the Pentagon destroyed in the attacks was reopened, complete with a memorial ceremony for those who perished. Klee attended the memorial and reopening events. In 2004, Klee and Neubauer completed their service. They now reside in White County.
“You don’t get over it,” said Klee. “I don’t know if you ever really learn to accept it. You just put it in its place in your mind.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on New York City, Washington D.C., and the crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
When it comes to remembering those who lost their lives on that day, Klee asks everyone to pray.