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Pentagon 9/11 survivors describe terrorist attack, 20 years later

They lived through the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Now, 20 years later, the survivors of 9/11 are reliving the events of that terrible day.

WASHINGTON — It was a Tuesday, like any other workday, until all of a sudden, it wasn't.

At 9:37 a.m., highjacked American Airlines Flight 77, flying 530 miles per hour, crashed into the western side of the Pentagon, destroying 2 million square feet of the building's three outer rings: E, D, and C.

The crash killed all 64  passengers and crew on the plane, and 125 people on the ground.

"I really realize now how close I was," said Keith Walker, a retired Air Force Master Sergeant. "I was less than a hundred yards away. Had it come all the way through the building, I probably wouldn't be here now."

Pentagon 9/11 survivors spoke virtually Thursday to high school students around the country. They described the moments of uncertainty, disbelief, and horror that the headquarters for the United States military had been attacked.

Cassandra Johnson, associate deputy general counsel for the Office of the Army General Counsel, said: "For those of us who lived through it, even my kids, we all remember where we were. It was a tragedy, numbness, all those awful feelings."

Retired Navy Captain Joe Gradisher remembers the moment vividly.

"I not only heard the plane hit the building, I felt it," he said. "It was one huge bam!"

Gradisher said what happened that day still affects him now, and it changed him forever.

"Every time I talk to somebody on the phone from my family, I tell them I love them," he said. "Because you don't know when the last time is you're going to be able to say that."

Approximately 50,000 tons of debris were quickly removed and demolition was completed in a little over a month under what was called "The Phoenix Project."

The $500 million reconstruction job was finished, and a re-opening ceremony took place exactly one year to the day later, on September 11, 2002.


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