Senior Civilian Returns To Pentagon, Recalls Attack
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2002 Around 9:30 a.m. on September 11, 2001, lawyer Peter M. Murphy recalled he was standing near a window in his fourth floor Pentagon office transfixed by television images of two airliners flying into the Twin Towers of the New York World Trade Center.
Peter M. Murphy, the senior legal advisor to the Marine Corps' Commandant, in his 4E470 Pentagon office Aug. 15. Murphy is near where he was standing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001; he is gesturing in the direction where he watched television reports that morning of airplanes flying into the New York World Trade Center Twin Towers. Moments later, the terrorist-hijacked airliner plowed into the Pentagon's west wall, just yards away from Murphy's office. The Marine Corps' flag in the corner remained standing after the attack. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Suddenly another terrorist-hijacked airliner, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon's west outer "E" ring wall, killing 59 passengers and five hijackers aboard.
The plane slammed two floors below and just yards to the right of his 4E470 office, said Murphy, 57, the senior legal advisor to the Marine Corps' Commandant.
Murphy, a former Army infantry officer, said the concussion hurled him and two others across his office. The airliner's impact ripped a giant chunk out of the five-sided building, killing 125 Pentagon military and civilian employees.
"It was horrifying, but we all picked ourselves off the floor; none of us were hurt," he remarked, noting that his Marine corporal aide forced open the jammed main office door leading to the hallway and safety.
Groping past flames and black-smoke-filled hallways, Murphy said he and others eventually made their way downstairs and then outside.
The wall in his office closest to the impact had been completely sheared away, Murphy pointed out. However, he noted his office's Marine Corps flag that had stood in the corner had remained upright after the attack at the edge of an abyss of ruined masonry.
Engineers later told Murphy that if the plane had hit 10 feet closer all in the office would have been killed.
Almost out of the stricken building, Murphy's group heard a second explosion.
"We thought it was a second plane hitting," he explained. The noise, Murphy remarked, was made by the collapse of an entire floor in the impact zone.
Murphy was one of 22 people moving back into their offices Aug. 15, as contractors bustled about delivering new furniture. About 600 Pentagon military and civilian employees will return to their offices before the one-year anniversary of the attacks, said Rachel Decker, communications specialist for the Pentagon Renovation Program.
"The 'E' Ring will be completely occupied on all five floors" by Sept. 11, Decker pointed out.
Crediting his survival to "the Almighty," Murphy added that he and his coworkers "were all rubbery-kneed for awhile" at their temporary workplace at the Navy Annex close to the Pentagon.
But, the healing has begun, he said.
"It was very important to us that we carry on that we come back" to the Pentagon to help support the Marine Corps, Murphy said.
"I think it has helped to bring closure to our office," he continued, "as far as the trauma that we all experienced and the fact that the Pentagon is rebuilt it's restored beautifully."
Murphy compared the repaired Pentagon and its returning employees to symbols of American resolve for victory in the fight against global terrorism.
"We now are part of that, of coming back to work and getting on (with life) and not 'turning tail,'" he explained.
"I think that was very important for all of us," he concluded.