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“As a teen sitting in my Economics class, the shock of September 11th woke me up. I saw what man could do. That day during my senior year in high school I thought about everyone. Frightened, I began to cry. It was all I could do.”

Paul Rodriguez

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September 11th

On the 2003 “National Memorial Day Concert,” we shared the story of Lincoln Liebner, a serviceman who watched the 9/11 tragedy at the Pentagon unfold.  Major Liebner shared his story with us and attended the Concert on the night of May 29, 2003.  Golden Globe winner and Emmy-nominated actor Dylan McDermott portrayed Major Liebner on our show and recounted his experience of that tragic and terrifying day. 

(As portrayed by Dylan McDermott)

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was home in Washington, DC.  I wasn't scheduled to go to my communications job at the Pentagon until that night.  It was the most beautiful day in Washington of all time.  Just a perfect morning.  I didn't even want to go inside when my girlfriend called, and told me to turn on the TV:  the first World Trade Center tower had just been hit.   And then I saw the second plane hit the other tower and I knew in an instant it was an attack. 

I jumped into my car and drove to the Pentagon.  I parked and started to jog to the nearest entrance, and that's when I saw the American Airlines plane go right past me.  It was probably about thirty feet off the ground, clipping the lampposts.  I could clearly see through the windows of the plane. It was maybe going 500 miles an hour – when it just flew … into the Pentagon … less than a hundred yards away.

Photo of Dylan McDermott The noise was like nothing I'd ever heard before.  Louder than artillery.  There was a lot of black smoke and flames and fire.  But the incredible thing was there were no pieces of the plane.  It just disappeared into the building.  Some people were running away, but I started to run towards the building – it was what I was supposed to do. 

Inside, it was just very dark and smoky.  The plane had entered on the floor above so everything had caved in.  The first thing I heard were two women, trapped underneath some debris.  I got the rubbish off them, and they scurried on out.  Then a woman came stumbling toward me.  She was very, very badly burned.  As she reached out to me, I grabbed her arm and absolutely all the skin came off.  It was just like pulling off a sock.  I got her out; but I felt so bad, I remember saying, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." 

I could hear people shouting to me all over the building.  "We can see you, we can see you!"  But it was so dark I couldn't see anybody; I couldn't find them to help them.  I was doing okay with the fire and the smoke, but I couldn't breathe.  How far could I push myself so I could find more people?  I wish I could say I wasn't scared.  I can't say that.  

I heard a group of maybe six people that were stuck behind a wall of rubble.  I was able to create a little tunnel through the wreckage, you know, like a rabbit trail in the forest.  One of the men was so very badly burned, his clothing was mostly gone.  There was no way to move him other than to, actually hold his belt, kind of straddle him and move him about eight inches at a time.  I kept apologizing to him the whole time I was moving him – he must have been in so much pain. 

After I got the group out, I couldn't breathe, absolutely couldn't breathe.  I ran outside to get some air … and fell on my knees.  Somebody gave me an oxygen mask.  It couldn't have been more than two or three minutes… and then the entire building… just collapsed. 

There were so many people still left in the building.  I was in shock.  In 20 years in the Army, I'd served in Special Forces; Bosnia, Korea – all over the world.  I thought I was through with front-line action.  Now, here I was at the Pentagon, in an office job, wearing an office uniform.  And we'd been attacked.

When I left that night, the Pentagon was still on fire.  The inside of my truck was illuminated, it was burning so brightly.

Since 9/11, I keep thinking of all the people we didn't get out.  And I think about the passengers on the plane, especially all the kids.  I realize now I'm the last person a lot of people saw.

Through his courageous actions, Major Lincoln Liebner saved nine people's lives.  Yet despite the valiant efforts of the Major, and of the other heroes of September 11th, more than three thousand men, women and children were killed, each one of them someone's parent, child, or loved one.  At this point in the 2003 “National Memorial Day Concert,” we paused to remember and to honor the precious lives that were lost to us.

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