Anniversary of Attack Poignant for Renovation Manager
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 9, 2005 When American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the side of the Pentagon at 9:39 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, Lee Evey was unaware that anything was wrong, let alone that three years worth of hard work was in ruins.
The then-Pentagon Renovation Program manager was driving to North Carolina to attend a funeral when he stopped for lunch. He had not been listening to the radio.
"(The) people were a little bit slow coming out to serve me and when they came out they apologized for being so slow but said they had been in the back room watching the terrible events on television," Evey told the Pentagon Channel in an interview recently.
When he asked what terrible events they meant, they told him about the World Trade Center in New York City and then mentioned the aircraft that had just hit the Pentagon.
"Of course, I was out of the restaurant and running across the parking lot, jumped in my car and immediately drove back to the Pentagon," he said.
When Evey arrived at the Pentagon about 6 p.m., the sun was just starting to set. What he found was troubling and "incredible."
"It was surreal," he said. "I had at that point stopped and briefly seen the events unfolding on television, seeing it on television, seeing it on the front page of a newspaper, seeing it in a magazine, hearing about it on the radio; none of those things come anywhere close to approximating the real thing."
The grim facts weren't as grim as they could have been, though. Had the aircraft struck any other "wedge" of the Pentagon, it would have taken more lives and caused more damage. Wedge 1 was the first section to undergo renovation. With that renovation came the installation of safety elements that included reinforced walls, windows designed to withstand a blast and other life-saving features.
"We were only about five days away from total completion of Wedge 1 when the aircraft hit the building," Evey said. "We'd spent three years of our lives building out Wedge 1, and it was unfortunate to see a great deal of that work totally demolished. But in another way, it was really quite an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, if you can say anything about Sept. 11 was a stroke of good fortune."
Of the 2,600 people in the immediate area of impact, Evey said, there were 125 casualties. While any loss of life is unacceptable and unfortunate, he said, it is a testament to the integrity of, and the need for, the renovation.
"You must also recognize that with 2,600 people in the path of a 757 loaded with 10,000 gallons of jet fuel and traveling at 350 mph and impact this building and only take 125 casualties, this building did an extraordinary job at protecting its occupants," he said. "It's absolutely astounding what it did to protect the people who were here."
For two weeks, the crash site was considered a crime scene and under the control of the FBI. When control was returned to the Pentagon, the damage assessments were not positive.
Nearly 400,000 square feet of the building would have to be demolished. The concrete and reinforcement rods within the concrete had been so weakened by the intense fire that resulted when 10,000 gallons of fuel aboard the plane exploded and burned, that they could not sustain the weight of the building if it was simply rebuilt.
And so the first phase of what was dubbed "Project Phoenix" began. It was originally estimated that the demolition would take six to eight months. One month and one day later, the site was clear and the reconstruction could begin.
"Part of it, I think, was that everyone was so energized at that point in time. But I think more important than that even was the sense of teamwork and camaraderie." Evey said. "That was something we had developed in the Pentagon renovation over the preceding four years. So when something disastrous like this occurred, we had a solid foundation to build on within our program, a sense of family ... a sense of mission, a sense of purpose."
At the height of the reconstruction 3,000 workers were on the construction site at any given time. Those workers and their dedication - Evey said that they had to be forced to take even a holiday off - completed Project Phoenix quickly.
"On the morning of Sept. 11, 2002, at 9:28 a.m. ... outside that very location where the airplane hit, there were 12,000 people and they were listening to the president of the United States as he made a speech in support of a salute to the workers who put this building back together again," Evey recalled.
Employees watched the ceremony from their new offices in Wedge 1.
Evey had overseen the renovation of the building beginning in 1997 and had planned to retire just before the attack. On Sept. 16, 2002, he retired with a sense of satisfaction after more than three decades of federal service.
"I can't emphasize enough that whatever sense of satisfaction any individual may have had, myself included, pales in significance with what it meant to the team, the organization, this building and the military family that lives here," he said. "What we did, we did for that community. What we did, we did for that town."
He said that past events were not nearly as important as what was built for the future. And that future includes a sense of community and the ongoing renovation of the Pentagon to make it a safer, more efficient workplace for its military family.