As America reflects on the attacks that claimed thousands of lives in 2001, one retired navy admiral tells Newsy what he remembers the day a plane crashed into the Pentagon.
"There was this big, big boom, and I thought it was like an 18 wheeler, one of those big propane gas tank things that exploded," retired Rear Admiral Terry Moulton said. "I didn't really realize that it was the plane hitting the Pentagon."
Moulton worked in the Navy's Manpower and Reserve Affairs office on the other side of the building from where the plane struck that morning.
"I grabbed my briefcase, and everybody started going down the stairwells," Moulton said. "Can you imagine 23,000 people trying to make their way down the different stairwells?"
He made it safely outside the building after helping a few people in the stairwell, but others weren't so lucky.
"You could see just billowing – just smoke billowing up," he said. "And about that time, you started to see some of the casualties coming out. I remember glancing over, and there was a man on the gurney, and he was holding his hands up. He was lying on the gurney and looking towards the sky, holding his hands up. And I thought it was a mannequin at the beginning because it just – he was burnt. And it was very quiet. And it was just, you know, so surreal."
Moulton's military training kicked in, and he began helping medics as they set up a triage area in the parking lot.
"I bent down and helped a guy named John. I don't remember his last name, but smoke inhalation, coughing, and coughing," he said. "And so we had some of those small oxygen tanks and just put the nasal cannula on him and then tried to comfort him. And then you can sort of look down the road, and you can see all the other casualties and everybody moving around and trying to help them."
Moulton says all the emergency vehicles were on the other side of the building, so an Air Force major offered to use her car to take John to the hospital.
"I have often wondered about that," Moulton said. "He was doing okay – he was coughing a lot, had the oxygen going. And I think that Air Force nurse knew what she was doing to assist him. I just hope that he was okay."
For weeks following the attack, Moulton says he and many of his coworkers were on edge.
"Every time a plane flew by, in the next few weeks, it was like, people were very attentive to that plane coming across there," he said.
He went on to serve at the Pentagon three times after 9/11. He says he will never forget what he saw and heard that day.
"I still get messages on September 11 from the people that were there that day," he said. "You know, it was a brotherhood, a sisterhood. It was just one of those events that – we take care of each other when things like that happen."
One hundred eighty-four people were killed at the Pentagon on that fateful day twenty years ago, including the 59 passengers and crew members on American Airlines flight 77.