Ironworker Feels 'Privileged' to Help Rebuild Pentagon
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2002 When terrorists struck the Pentagon Sept. 11 last year, they didn't know they'd be contending with John S. Bremerman and countless stalwart Americans just like him.
"We're not going to quit just because they come over and knock down a building," Bremerman said. "That's not going to stop us. That doesn't destroy our resolve. We're still going to be here."
John S. Bremerman, a 30-year veteran ironworker from Gambrills, Md., said he was angry after terrorists attacked the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2002. He said he feels privileged to help reconstruct the historic building. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Bremerman isn't a warfighter. He's a journeyman ironworker from Gambrills, Md. For 30 years, he's put up steel. Up until mid-August last year, he was doing just that at the Pentagon, installing steel-backup, blast-resistant windows in what is known as Wedge One.
The windows sit in a steel frame attached to the floor below and the floor above, he noted. "Since it's all welded together, it reinforces the walls and the windows. It makes for a very sturdy faade."
When the job was done, Masonry Arts, the Alabama-based contractor, laid off Bremerman and all but two other workers. A few weeks later, the new blast windows were put to the test.
Bremerman said he was in the District of Columbia when terrorists slammed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. He saw the damage on the news.
"What we'd put in was destroyed in the section where the plane hit," he said. "But from there on over, it's still standing proudly.
Newspaper photos of the attack site showed three windows "just hanging out in space," he noted. "They were still connected to one another. I thought that was amazing."
"According to the people who were in those offices to the right of where the airplane hit, the fireball went right on by and didn't blow the glass out," Bremerman said. "I'd say it saved a lot of lives. The guy who designed those windows, he ought to have a statue built for him out in the park. He did a good job."
Two weeks after the attack, he was back with Masonry Arts at the Pentagon. He's there still, working long hours, seven days a week, on the fast-paced reconstruction project.
"It's kind of like bumper cars," he said. "One minute you're sitting still, and the next minute somebody slams into you with, 'I gotta have it,' and you just don't stop until it's done."
The hectic pace has led to progress that has surprised even veteran construction workers. "I thought, '180 days? No way,'" Bremerman said. "They've made progress. They've had people in here 24 hours a day if they needed them."
Rich Bartram, Masonry Arts superintendent and Bremerman's boss, said it's really taken a team effort. "It has been incredible," he said. "I would never have believed last September that this thing would be almost done. In the 'Phoenix' area (the rebuilt attack site), they've got carpet, furniture. It's ready for the people to move in.
"Jobs don't normally run like this," he said. "It went together so fast. I'd like to say there were no mistakes, but there were quite a few. But we overcame them, and then we just kept on going forward. The idea was to 'just get it done' and everybody did."
Workers removed all the stone from the old building that could be reused, Bremerman recalled. They sorted it, cleaned it and marked it for refitting. Some salvaged broken roofing slate they later cut into hand-sized pentagons as mementos.
"It's really been quite an amazing project if you think about all the coordination they had to go through to put this thing back together," he said. "It's been a monumental feat just coordinating what goes where and what was worthy of being put back and what wasn't."
None of the 120 or construction projects he's worked over the years compare to rebuilding the Pentagon, he said. "When I came here for the renovation project, the first wedge was gutted," he noted. "We brought it back to a new modern office building, and then we came back after the attack and put it back up."
Before reconstruction could even begin, crews had to demolish the impact site. "It was painful watching them tear down the old building and think about the people that died," he said. He also said he felt angry.
"We certainly can't let a bunch of people come knock down a building and kill people and think that they've done something," he said. "Had I been the wild man in charge, I think I would have just bombed somebody into dust. I don't care who it was, but somebody was going to go. It's a good thing they don't let me make the decisions."
Some of those who'd worked on the Pentagon renovation project were reluctant to return to the building terrorists had targeted, Bremerton said.
"I kind of feel privileged to be here," he said. "I couldn't wait to get back." The ironworker had no qualms about the possibility of another strike.
"Let them come back," he said. "I'm not worried about them. If they kill me, they're not really hurting anybody. I'm just one person. They're not going to destroy a nation by killing me. Somebody else will come back behind me and pick it up, and we'll rebuild again. If we have to, we'll do it 15 times. We're just not going to quit."