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Navy Mainstay Retires After 50 Years of Military, Civilian Service

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2008 – If you cut Paul Brady, he would probably bleed sea water.

Brady is Navy through and through, and he retires today after more than 50 years of service as a sailor and a civilian.

Brady, from near Nashville, Tenn., joined the service in 1958 and served on active duty through 1969. He worked as a civilian Navy communicator from 1969 to 1992, and has worked as a budget analyst in the service’s counterdrug program since then.

The 72-year old former sailor was one of only eight survivors among the 28 people working in the Navy Command Center on Sept. 11, 2001. “The good Lord was looking out for me that day,” Brady said during a recent interview. “That, and my Navy training.”

Brady and the other members of his office watched on television as the airliners hit the World Trade Center. “After the second airliner hit, I remember saying that we would be the next target,” Brady said.

He went back to his office against the D-Ring of the Pentagon, and the explosion came. “It sounded like an eight-inch shell detonating behind me,” Brady said. It was Flight 78 hitting the building. The shock wave pushed Brady and a co-worker to the floor.

The air was filled with acrid, choking smoke, dust and fiberglass from the overhead tiles. The lights were out, and the water sprinklers cut on. “The place was in complete darkness,” he said. “There were no battery-powered battle lanterns in the command center like we have on ships to provide lighting below decks.”

Brady stood to find total chaos. He turned to see how his co-worker was and, “there, wonder of wonders, was a light shining through the smoke and dust,” he said. “I immediately dropped to the deck and crawled over the rubble, staying below the smoke line to the light. ‘Stay low. Stay alive’ was drilled into our heads in damage control schools in the fleet.”

He came upon a 4-foot square hole in the masonry and limestone wall of the Pentagon. “I bent over and walked through it to the alleyway between the rings,” he said. His co-worker was already there, and he helped the then-66-year-old Brady over the rubble. They worked their way along the alleys between the rings to the Pentagon’s center courtyard, and then out of the building.

“Aside from some cuts and bruises, I was fine,” Brady said.

Brady was on active duty when the Soviets put up the Berlin Wall in 1961, and he helped enforce the blockade of Cuba in 1962 when Soviet missiles were found 90 miles from America’s shores.

“Nothing happened either time,” he said. “When you are 66 years old and at a desk in the Pentagon, one does not expect a hijacked airliner to blast into the command center.”

Brady lives in Dumfries, Va., and is the proud father of seven children. He still tells sea stories of his service aboard the USS Newport News -- “the best damn cruiser in the fleet,” he says -- during the Cuban missile crisis.

Over his career, Brady has seen many changes in the Pentagon. He said that when he started in 1969, there were no paintings or displays up in the corridors. People smoked at their desks, and eating establishments were few and far between.

“In the offices, people were really crammed together, and they didn’t have the elevators they have now,” he said. But not everything at the Pentagon has changed. “The paperwork and bureaucracy are just as bad as they always have been,” he noted.

During his half-century of service, the military has become far more of a joint organization, Brady said. He started as a communicator and worked only on systems for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Later, that included the U.S. Air Force. Now, as a budget analyst with the counterdrug office, he routinely works with representatives of the other services, the Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Though Brady retires today, he’s not severing his connections to the Pentagon.

“I plan to work as a volunteer in the Pentagon chaplain’s office,” he said. “Hopefully, I can help some people out and stay in contact with my good friends.”

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