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Doctor Describes 9/11 Response

Excerpts from an interview with Col. Jonathan C. Fruendt, M.D., deputy assistant surgeon general for force projection, the Pentagon, regarding Sept. 11, 2001. Col. Fruendt specializes in internal medicine.

Interview conducted Sept. 25, 2001 by the Office of Medical History, Office of the Army Surgeon General.

There was a very sharp jolt and the sound of an explosion. It was not loud in our office, but it was very clearly the sound of an explosion. The three of us in the office looked at each other and knew something bad had happened. I thought it was a bomb that had gone off. My first reaction was to go see what was going on. Our office doesn`t have any windows . so we didn`t have any idea of what was going on outside.

I had gone down the hallway just a short distance when I heard a lot of commotion behind me, and I turned around and I saw people running. People were screaming, and I saw a cloud of smoke coming down from the 3rd and 4th corridors. There was smoke and dust and a lot of commotion. So I again turned around and headed back in the direction I was originally going away from, out into the courtyard.

By this time, people were streaming out of the Pentagon. I went into the health clinic, and I found Maj. (Lorie) Brown [the Pentagon clinic`s chief nurse]. She was clearly in charge; she was talking with someone, very calm, incredibly organized, and after she had finished talking she turned to me, and I said, "I`m a physician. What can I do to help?" She thought for just a moment, and she said, "Go to the courtyard. We`re setting up triage there."

I went back into the courtyard, and then I could look across towards the wedge that had been damaged and there was now smoke billowing up that I could see over the roof, but I couldn`t see flames. There were now injured people in the courtyard, so I went to the person closest to me and asked them what was wrong and asked what I could do.

One of the first people I saw was a female Army lieutenant colonel who was having difficulty breathing. It looked like she may have had an inhalation injury. I didn`t see a lot of external burns or other injury, but she was clearly having difficulty breathing. We started some oxygen, and I also got an IV started.

There was medical equipment in the courtyard by that time. The folks from the Pentagon clinic had transported medical chests out to the courtyard. . There were many, many people there trying to help. Additional patients kept streaming out of the Pentagon into the courtyard. Some of them were badly burned. Others had what appeared to be superficial injuries, like scrapes. Everybody was very, very shaken up. Some people were brought in by their friends because they had been hurt and couldn`t walk. Some had only a scratch on their forehead or nothing that looked severe, and many of them didn`t want to stay. They just wanted to get out of the area.

And then we got word that the leadership said that we should clear out of the courtyard, move the patients out to the north side of the building. So the Pentagon maintenance staff brought some of the motorized vehicles that they use in the Pentagon out into the courtyard. We loaded up the most serious patients on stretchers, loaded the stretchers on these vehicles, and then moved out . past the POAC [Pentagon gym]. When we got just past the POAC across the bridge, there was a sidewalk that leads down to the area where the people had set up a triage area. There were many, many casualties there, but there were also a lot of people who were there helping, too.

When I got to the triage area, I asked where I could help. I saw people with all kinds of injuries: burn injuries, blast injuries. One lady had a broken hip. I could see how her leg was twisted out from the broken bone. I don`t know if she fell or was thrown by the blast. Some of these people were clearly very, very critically injured.

By then, people were coming from all over to help the injured. A busload of staff came from Walter Reed [Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.]. Ambulances were coming from Fort Belvoir [DeWitt Army Community Hospital, Fort Belvoir, Va.] and Walter Reed. The most seriously injured were loaded in ambulances and taken away to hospitals. Other casualties were taken in private vehicles to get them to the hospitals. There was so much traffic congestion by that time. The ambulances were having a lot of difficulty getting through.

The leadership put out a call for people to go back into the Pentagon to try to evacuate other injured personnel that weren`t able to get out. And so a call went out for t-shirts . the people going in needed something to cover their faces. Everybody just took off their shirts, gave the t-shirts, and then we put our shirts back on.

It reminded me of something else that happened in the courtyard. When I was in there the first time, I realized that I had not let my family know that I was ok. . But I didn`t have my cell phone. It was on my desk still inside the Pentagon along with almost everything else that I owned. I was standing next to an individual who had just called someone in his family. I didn`t say anything, but I guess I had that look on my face that I wanted to let my family know I was ok. The person looked at me and said, "Do you want to use my cell phone? Do you want to call somebody?" I said, "Yes, I do." So I called [and] left a message on the machine, just saying, "I`m fine. I`m taking care of patients. I`m ok." It was just remarkable how people wanted to do anything to help. I tell people it was such an evil day, that terrorists could do something so bad. But, in spite of the evil, there was so much goodness, too. People responded with tremendous goodness. That was reassuring.

So I`m back out on the north side of the Pentagon. At that point, again, the leadership asked for some medical personnel to go back into the courtyard to treat the patients that the firemen and the volunteers would bring out from the building. . We set up litter teams, and we were prepared to handle any casualties that the firemen would bring out of the building. There were a lot of fire personnel inside the building. By that time, there were FBI personnel in the area, too. We noticed pieces of the aircraft that had landed inside of the courtyard, and the FBI personnel were marking the location where each piece landed.

It was about that time I noticed Pentagon personnel opening up the vending machines that were in the central courtyard. The personnel started taking out the sodas, and the water from the machines, and just putting it out for all the personnel inside the courtyard. Then the Pentagon staff went into the snack bar in that central area, and they opened up refrigerators . and got out buns and cheese, and just things for the people to eat. And they kept bringing more food and sodas and offering them to people. And saying, "You`ve got to drink fluids." So it was, again, this tremendous desire to help and do anything.

Well the firemen went in, and we were prepared. We had folks from the Pentagon clinic. There were folks from Walter Reed. There were Air Force personnel from different clinics, a highly varied group of people. And we waited, and the firemen came out maybe 20–30 minutes later, and they didn`t have anybody for us to treat. There were no more survivors in the building for us to treat.

There was this overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Wanting to do more, even for the patients that we were treating, wanting to do more for those people. Wanting more patients to treat, wanting to get those people out of there. And just the fact that the building was damaged and our people were still in there. And hearing the news about New York, and what happened, and the buildings collapsing. I remember that just tremendous feeling of helplessness. And so many people there, who were so obviously willing to do whatever, but at that time, there wasn`t anything to do.

I`ve got so many emotions about [the attack]. There`s the frustration of not being able to do more. The anger that this would happen. The reassurance that so many people responded positively and did the right things, helping in every way that they could. Confidence that even though this was a terrible thing that happened to our nation, that our nation is going to endure, that we will respond to this and do what we have to do to protect America as we know it. There`s a disappointment that my children won`t have the same degree of freedom that I had growing up. I still look back at that day and realize the tremendous good fortune that I had to survive, and not be hurt. Many, many people that I know did survive, and yet there are people I know, too, that died. That makes me very sad.

I hope this is also an opportunity in our country that we start to pay a little bit more attention to each other. I`m saddened that our society had become, I guess, I can`t think of the right word. We have . lost concern for each other. I see it when I`m driving. I see it when I`m a pedestrian these days. It`s something, to feel really threatened out there on the street, if you want to cross the street or whatever. I`m hoping that Americans regain some of that concern for our fellow Americans. I think the President talked about that in his inaugural speech, that we need to be more concerned about each other, and not just focused on ourselves so much. It`s so easy to do.

I`m hopeful that we can start showing concern and love for one another in our country. And in that way, protect ourselves from these other people who would want to hurt us. Because if we, as a nation, start looking out for each other, I think that we`re just that much better off, rather than everybody just looking out for himself, or him or herself. So I`m hopeful that we can do that.

For immediate release, Sept. 6, 2002.