Take a Moment for 9/11

By Stew Cohen

In cities and villages across the U.S., millions of people hugged their loved ones and called family members living further away. The emotions that poured out on September 11, 2001 and for the days and weeks that followed ran very deep into the soul of America for we were tested in a way that we’d not seen since the attack in 1941 at Pearl Harbor. 

We put U.S. flags on our car antennas and draped ribbons and bows of the Stars and Stripes around our trees. We felt a wave of patriotism for America and prayed for our country. And we vowed as a nation not to be fearful, but to honor the lives and memories of those brave souls that died on 9/11. Not only was September 11 a day that tested our character, but it became a rallying cry across the country that we would do everything possible to not let what happened destroy the fabric of our country. In a time of grief over the loss of so many lives, we strengthened our resolve to fight terrorism.  Wave after wave of young men and women signed up for military service.

For Lt. Col. (Retired) Ryan Yantis, a U.S. Army veteran and Pentagon 9/11 survivor, September 11, 2001 is very much present in his mind. Yantis is very busy around 9/11 at schools, veterans halls, and other gathering places telling his story of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.  The Crystal Lake resident, president of Silver Leaf Leadership Communication, shares with audiences how hundreds of men and women facing dangerous conditions that day stood up and took action to help others. Yantis tells of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 and how they decided they were not going to be passive and made heroic attempts to reclaim an aircraft taken over by terrorists.  “Those are the stories that I think really need to be heard and I try to share those from my personal experience and from working with World Trade Center survivors and other Pentagon survivors,” Yantis said.

American Airlines Flight 77, flying out of Dulles International bound for Los Angeles, crashed into the Pentagon on September 11.  Yantis was serving as a Public Information Officer (PIO) off of Corridor 6, second floor on the E ring, the outer ring of the Pentagon.  Exact locations he noted were very important because the place in the Pentagon where one stood the morning of 9/11 could mean life or death.  Yantis walked into the very spot in the Pentagon where Flight 77 would make a direct impact and burst into flames.  He was with his boss, a Colonel new to the building and they were trying to find where officers would discuss what if any help New York might need from the attacks on both towers of the World Trade Center.  However, they couldn’t find the room. Yantis convinced the Colonel the best thing they could do was call and find out where they were supposed to go and it turned out they were way off…and so they headed away from the corridor that was then a few minutes from bursting into flames from the terrorist controlled commercial airplane colliding into the Pentagon. As they closed in on the Army Operations Center below ground, the first lives he and the Colonel saved were their own.  Realization of how close they came didn’t hit Yantis for awhile. “As we walked in, the alarms went off and flashing strobe lights and the sergeant on security told us to evacuate.”  Yantis did not evacuate, not right away as he had a team of men and women working for him.  His team had managed to evacuate giving him a brief moment for calling his wife and letting her know he was okay. He checked and cleared each office as far as he could go in the E ring, “until I was between Corridor 5 and 6 and a big roll of smoke came around the corner and that’s when I realized the fire was way too thick.”  Security hollered at Yantis urging him to evacuate and so he went out of the Corridor 6 entrance and saw what he had described as the face of the Pentagon, “between Corridors 4 and 5 completely on fire.”  People were missing he found out quickly and rushed back, this time through the entrance at Corridor 8, the main entrance and exit to the Pentagon.  He found a row of old World War II stretchers neatly lined up and took  one of the wood and canvas stretchers leaning against a tree and helped carry people out of the building. Yantis was using the skills he’d learned as an Eagle Scout so many years earlier and the training he had in the Army on first aid as he’d become a First Responder. “There were men and women of all ranks, all races, all backgrounds putting themselves at risk running in and out of the building, either to carry people to safety or get medical supplies, he said.  Yantis knew a number of servicemen and women that died that day inside the building such as Janice Scott, an army civilian employee at the Pentagon.  He remembered Scott in the Army Budget Office, “the type of lady that could help us find what she termed ‘microscopic budget dust.’ Janice was great and I made an effort to meet her in person when I got assigned to the Pentagon.”

At the Pentagon, 125 workers were killed, 70 of those were civilians, 55 were army and navy. With the victims from Flight 77 and the Pentagon victims, 189 people died on September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon. From all the terrorist attacks that day, 2,996 people died.  The numbers are horrific but Yantis doesn’t finish his speeches at schools or other large group gatherings by ending with the sheer number of  victims.  He wants people to know that when something bad happened, there were hundreds of people doing the right thing.  That the next day, September 12, “men and women walked into the Pentagon despite a part of the building still on fire and power completely out and they went to work. That’s dedication,” Yantis said. He and Don Basco, a World Trade Center Tower 1 survivor (57th Floor) link in with other survivors and through the company they formed, American Pride, Yantis and Basco visit  schools, libraries, and organizations and speak about 9/11.