Flight 77 crashed just below Robert Hogue’s Pentagon office. Here’s his story

PBS NewsHour's broadcast studio is just a few miles from the Pentagon here in Washington. On 9/11, that iconic structure designed to project American military might was struck clear out of the blue, just like the twin towers. 184 people died both in the building and on American Flight 77, excluding the hijackers. But many more escaped. We hear from Robert Hogue, one of the people who made it out.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Our broadcast studio is located a few short miles from the Pentagon just outside Washington.

    On 9/11, that iconic structure designed to project American military might was struck clear out of the blue, just like the Twin Towers; 184 people died both in the building and on American Flight — American Airlines Flight 77, excluding the hijackers.

    There are many more who escaped.

    And now we hear from one of them, whose story was brought to us by The War Horse. It's a nonprofit newsroom focused on coverage of veterans and the military.

    Robert Hogue worked for the Marine Corps, and he made it out after the plane crashed just below his office.

  • Robert Hogue:

    Starts out like any other day.

    Marine Corps, where I was working, of course, starts very early. I was the deputy counsel for the commandant at that time, a senior executive position, one of the very few civilians working on the senior Marine staff. And it was also my one-year anniversary. So, I was a little bit — I was happy, kind of goofing around, calling up my boss, you can't fire me now, I have made my probationary period, you know.

    But when I came into his office, he was talking to another attorney. And they had New York on TV. And so it made things suddenly serious. But, also, there was a lot of confusion. Nobody really knew what was going on.

    I was in and out of the office for the next almost hour, it seemed like. And then I happened to be in his office when the second plane flew in, hit the second tower. And then it's just a — hard to describe, but I would just say that, in a moment, you knew that you were a nation at war.

    And I don't think anybody had any real idea who we were at war with. I had an administrative chief, an admin chief, a young corporal named Tim Garofola. He was a Marine. I asked him to get the security status of the Pentagon, thinking, hey, we're in the flight pattern for National Airport. Seemed like a good idea.

    He called down to the security office, and, in the midst of all the running around, comes back into my office and reports the threat condition is normal, THREATCON normal. And I said, that's obviously a mistake. You need to check. Like, every five minutes, report back to me.

    And about nine-thirty AM, he came into my office. And this is how many times it is. He showed up every five minutes. And he says, threat condition still normal.

    And I jumped up from my desk. And I just started to rant: "You know, we're in the flight pattern for National Airport, for Christ's sake," you know? And I left my office.

    We're in an interior suite. The office runs parallel to the west wall. And I turned to go to my office, my boss' office, Peter Murphy. And right about time I got to the door, it was just boom.

    The experience of being blown up is more like a lost time experience. I'm walking, and then I'm over there, waking up on the floor kind of thing. I was very fortunate. I had been on the south side of the building and blown to the north side. I started to pick myself up.

    I recognized I'm looking through my boss' windows from a distance. I can see a tumbling cloud going up the other side of the windows. It's the — it's the fireball.

    I say to Corporal Garofola: "Get us out of here."

    When the plane exploded, it pushed the fuel out into every crack it could find, of course. And because it had opened up a very large hole in the bottom of the building, it had plenty of oxygen to fuel the fire.

    Well, our windows didn't blow out. The Pentagon had just been reconstructed. And it had these blast-proof windows put in. And God bless the guys who put those in. That saved our lives. I mean, the plane went into the building right under us.

    We were on the south side of the building, the side that's collapsing. We have to jump the crack to get to the other side, which we do. And then we gather ourselves there. And, as this is happening, the floor continues to pull away.

    The south side, in which direction is the fourth corridor, which is the closest way out, but in order to get there, you have to run down this crumbling hallway. It looked a bit like a shooting gallery. It was not very inviting.

    To the north side, which is the only other — in that part of the Pentagon, you can only go in these two directions, north or south. South is not good. To the north side is the construction entrance.

    You see these tan pants appear…

    (LAUGHTER)

    … in the construction, tan pants appearing in the construction area.

    And tan pants, it's the Navy — Navy chief probably, I'm thinking, and he starts to yell. And even I can hear this. He's yelling as loud as he can: "If you can hear my voice, come this way. There's a way out."

    So now we know we can escape. And it occurred to me at that moment that we can't just run, even though I desperately, desperately want to run. But I said, no, we're going to search these offices.

    And I sent Corporal Garofola into the first office. As soon as he left, it's like a piece of me got carved out. I just felt like that was just a terrible mistake. But he went in. And I counted to 10. And at 10, I started in and practically ran into him coming out. And he had found someone under a desk.

    So, that is Tim Garofola saving a life.

    I had a pretty significant brain injury. And I was starting to struggle from the pressure inside my head and all the things that a massive concussion does to you. It starts to crowd out your thinking.

    And, anyway, we finally get ourselves out of the building, long story short. And Joe Baker had his phone with him. And he was trying to call his wife and he couldn't get her. And I said: "Let me try. I will call Cheryle."

    And I called and she picked up. And I said: "We made it out. We're in the parking lot. We're safe. We're going to come home."

    We were called in the next day. And planning for the war started really the next day in a conference room at the Navy Annex. And I took a call from a guy named Robert Barrow, who was a former Marine, as he told it. And he was volunteering. He was a very old man, and he was volunteering to carry a rifle.

    And I thought, wow. You know, where do you get these guys? As it turns out, Barrow was a former commandant who was very elderly and infirm, and I think very sincerely was offering to do one more thing for his country.

    Well, I had the privilege of serving alongside Marines for almost two decades. And I think what I'd want people to know is, it's not what it seems. It's not what it seems like in the press. It's not what it seems like on TV. It's sure as heck is not what it seems like in the movies.

    The Corps and I think all the services are trying to prepare themselves to do an awful mission that everybody hopes they never have to do. It's an organization, imperfect, trying to do a very hard thing. And they need help. And they need understanding. They need time and the patience of the public and I think the gratitude of the public as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Robert Hogue, we're going to let your words speak for themselves.

    We are so grateful to you and everyone who represented the United States on that terrible, terrible day.

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