'Unspeakable devastation': ODU professor recounts response to Pentagon on 9/11

Posted at 2:16 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 23:29:20-04

NORFOLK, Va. - After two planes crashed into each tower of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, a third hijacked plane struck the Pentagon.

"It had been such a beautiful fall day - crystal-clear blue sky - and suddenly it was filled with dark, dark smoke coming from the Pentagon," said Ron Carlee.

Carlee, currently an assistant professor at Old Dominion University, was one of the first to respond. He served as the county manager of Arlington County 20 years ago.

"We took the exit ramp and could see we had a major event," Carlee said.

One hundred and eighty-four people onboard American Airlines Flight 77 were killed. One hundred and twenty-five people inside the Pentagon died as well.

"The people who were injured and the trauma they carried with them, the family and friends that lost people, their children that didn't get to know their parents - that weighs heavily on me," Carlee said.

Carlee says it was chaos at first, but then he and his team promptly started their work, first putting up security fencing.

"Then, we were getting the people putting out the fire, whatever they needed. We did refueling operations, fixed cars and tools, anything," he said.

He recounts surveying the damage inside.

"What I was seeing was unspeakable devastation. It was as if you took contents of an office, burned it and put it in a blender and threw it across the room," Carlee described.

Although the tragic events where he stood unfolded two decades ago, Carlee says it seems like yesterday.

"I can still see myself standing in the emergency operations center very clearly in my mind's eye," he said.

Related: List of September 11 events throughout Hampton Roads