Editor: I am sending you this copy of a speech I gave on the steps of the courthouse in Leesburg one week after 9/11, on Sept. 18, 2001. Will we ever again see Congress join hands on the steps of the capitol and sing God Bless America?
Anthony V. Fasolo, Leesburg
Thank you, Mayor Webb for giving me this opportunity to speak on this solemn occasion. My name is Tony Fasolo and I live with my wife, Ann, in Exeter in the northern part of Leesburg.
I have been an Army civilian for over 15 years and for 20 years I was an army officer. So, I have been associated with the army for over 35 years.
In 1970, I was the casualty officer at United States Army Vietnam Headquarters in Long Binh where I reported on all the army dead and wounded to the pentagon. However, this experience did not prepare me for the horror that took place in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon on 9/11.
Ironic isn’t it that this took place on 911, the number we are all taught to use in an emergency?
One week ago, we all witnessed the most tragic day in American history that has changed the world forever. It is a day that rivals 7 December 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. President Roosevelt called it “the day that will live in infamy.” However, more people were killed on 11 September
2001 than on 7 December 1941. Last week’s attack was the first on us soil in the new millenium. It is also the first attack in the history of the world where innocent civilians and a domestic airliner loaded with jet fuel was used as a weapon. Also, this is the first time that we have been attacked by a faceless band off fanatic terrorists instead of a nation.
I have been asked to say a few words to you tonight to tell you something about what happened in the Pentagon. I was working there when the tragedy occurred. I work less than one hundred yards from the impact area and my boss, General Van Antwerp’s office, was destroyed. Fortunately, he and his deputy were not in the building at the time but his executive officer, LTC Brian Birdwell was there as were two secretaries, Cheryl Sincock and Sandy Taylor.
LTC Birdwell is recovering from burns over 50% of his body, but both Cheryl and Sandy are missing and presumed dead.
I remember watching the twin towers incident on TV that fateful morning. Someone told me that a single plane had hit one of the towers. At that time my first thought was that there had been a terrible accident. However, the next thing I was told was that a second plane had hit the other tower. This then was no accident. I rushed to a TV set to watch what was happening. I then returned to my desk and called my wife where she works to let her know about what was happening at the World Trade Center.
As soon as I got off the phone with her, I heard a loud “whomp” through the ventilating system and felt the building shake. I thought at first that one of the many construction workers working in the next wedge had done something but then I heard people yelling “evacuate the building.” I grabbed my coat, briefcase and wallet and left the building leaving my computer on and my day-timer on my desk. I walked out with the rest of the office staff. Almost everyone was calm and orderly. I helped to console a colleague who was getting very upset. I kept praying that I would not panic. We made it outside with a lot of prayer. We were then told to keep moving away from the building because another jet was heading towards DC at a high rate of speed and was about 15 minutes out. This jet never made it. Was this the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania?
We also heard many rumors about other buildings being hit in DC. Fortunately, these turned out to be false. I saw many people helping each other that day. No one tried to get ahead of anyone else or push anyone out of the way in order to get out first. Some people in head bandages were helped across the street. One person with asthma and without a breathalyzer was helped by a medic.
My first thought after getting clear of the building was that I had to let my wife know that I was OK and to also find a way home since I was not sure that the Loudoun County commuter bus, that I usually take to work would be running. I tried to call her on a cell phone that I had borrowed but I could not get through. I then boarded a Metro bus that appeared on the scene and was taken to Crystal City where we were stuck in a tremendous traffic jam that was surprisingly very orderly. No one blew their horns or seemed upset. It was a quiet, surreal scene.
I then walked to the Crystal City Marriott and made a call to my wife from a pay phone in the lobby. I waited in line about one hour to use one of the two pay phones located there. Again, no one panicked, and everyone waited their turn. I then thought about how I would get home. I did not want to go into DC because of all the monuments there as well as the White House, Capitol, and other government buildings. I really did not want to use the subway because I thought that it would be a good target also. I then thought that I might be able to take a shuttle bus from Reagan National Airport to Dulles where my wife could pick me up, but National was closed and I could not even get close to it. I then reluctantly decided to take the subway (metro). On the way to the Crystal City station, I could hear reports on radios about what was happening in New York and at the Pentagon. I finally took the Metro to West Falls Church where my wife met me.
The events of the day have changed all of us. Many of us have friends or relatives who live and work in the Pentagon or at the Twin Towers in New York. We also saw these events on TV.
I returned to the Pentagon for the first time yesterday. Surprisingly, my day-timer was still on my desk and my computer was on. No dirt or water. It was as if nothing had happened and yet just a few yards away, a commercial jet had hit the Pentagon going at 350 knots an hour killing all on board and perhaps as many as 180 people in the Pentagon.
At yesterday’s remembrance ceremony outside the Pentagon where only six days earlier we had stood after being evacuated, MG Van Antwerp told us of Cheryl’s and Sandy’s dedication and loyalty and that they would want us to get back to work and into our normal routines. Cheryl was married to an Army warrant officer and was a caring loving mother and grandmother. Sandy was a divorced mother of a daughter who is an all-American college lacrosse player. She had recently “discovered” Leesburg and spent several weekends at Lansdowne. She often asked me where the best places were to eat at and what there was to see here in the Leesburg area.
The ACSIM called them both members of his family. Can we ever get back to what was considered “normal” last week? The ACSIM told us that so many things have changed in our lives. However, for our own mental health, we must get back into a routine and understand that it will not be “business as usual.”
We were also to be wary of hating anyone who is not a Christian. MG Van Antwerp told us also to remember that we are looking for a small band of terrorists that are well financed and elusive. It will not be easy and a military strike will only come when we are sure that we have found the right people and at the right time.
The president said as much at the special ecumenical service held last Friday in DC. MG Van Antwerp also told us that President bush had visited LTC Birdwell in the hospital and after they had spoken for a few minutes, the commander-in-chief of our Armed Forces stood up and walked to the foot of the bed where he saluted LTC Birdwell! He also asked Brian to pray for him and that he would be praying for him.
This is good advice for all of us, I know that I was praying as I evacuated the pentagon after hearing the loud “whomp’ through the ventilating system. Please pray for the victims and their families, the rescue workers and, most importantly, our leaders.
The president has some difficult decisions to make and we all need to support him together with a united congress.
I know that the events of 11 September have changed all of our lives. I know that I am different. I feel numb, angry, frustrated and have trouble concentrating.
I also find myself looking up every time I hear an airplane and then watching it move across the sky to make sure it is safe. But most of all I feel pride in being an American and know that we all need to be understanding of some inconveniences we will have to endure. But most of all we have to keep our resolve. I believe that this is the only way we will prevail.
Thank you for your attention tonight and may God bless the USA.