Voices of Sept. 11: A special report

In this special report from National Journal some of the survivors of the attack on the Pentagon share their stories of what happened.

To most people around the country, the story of Sept. 11, 2001, is this: In New York City, 2,800 lives lost, one-seventh of the casualties from among firefighters and police officers. But in Arlington, Va., the day's dramas of life and death, duty and valor, improvisation and courage, and the unsettling fear of the unknown, were the same.

The Department of Defense became a target in broad daylight. The smoke plume was seen for miles, long into that sleepless night. When the 125 people who perished at the Pentagon are added to the 59 passengers and crew killed aboard American Airlines Flight 77, the carnage in Arlington surpasses Oklahoma City's bombing death toll of six years before.

The capital emptied. The president, traveling in Florida, went north, then west, then east. Commercial air traffic ceased. Telephone circuits jammed. Battle-attired military personnel brandished weapons of war on Washington's streets.

At the Pentagon, confusion, chaos, terror--and then, heroism--reigned. In a special report, National Journal asked some of the survivors--all of them accidental players in a tragedy of a generation--to share their versions of what happened.

"We felt this shuddering, and the whole building shook"
Lt. Cmdr. David Tarantino, U.S. Navy

"Everyone helps in some capacity. It's automatic."
Capt. David M. Thomas Jr. U.S. Navy

"It was fire, flame, smoke, everything"
Angela J. Williams, former civilian Defense security officer

"Sir, we could be next"
Gregory Fechner, former Air Force staff sergeant

"I think we're under attack"
Sgt. 1st Class Ed Bonilla, U.S. Army

"The thing I remember most was, I felt it"
Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, analyst, Office of the Secretary of Defense

"There was this overwhelming sense of helplessness"
Cmdr. Vincent McBeth, former administrative aide to the Navy secretary