The Unsung Pentagon Heroes

An U.S. soldier from the 5th. Striker Brigades mans his machine gun from a helicopter protecting the aircraft from a possible enemy attack on their way to a base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2009. Thousands of U.S. troops are deploying in southern Afghanistan as part of an effort to prevent the Taliban from disrupting the country's Aug. 20 presidential election. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

The Pentagon had just been hit and an inferno fed by the airliner's full load of jet fuel was burning out of control.

As CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports in the second part of his series on the Pentagon's unsung heroes, the nation's military center was perilously close to being shut down on a day when it was most needed.

While firefighters poured water on the flames, Steve Carter, the assistant building manager, confronted an even deadlier enemy: 13,000 volts of electricity.

With ankle-deep water, jet fuel and electricity flowing through virtually every piece of equipment inside, "it was a fully-live, loaded electrical vault," says Carter.

But for many caught in the wreckage, it was the only way out.

"They were actually handing injured people and people that were trying to escape the area through, because the hallway beside it had collapsed," says Carter.

One of Carter's electricians, a man who has never talked about what he did, waded into the water and jet fuel and shut off the 13,000 volts of electricity, giving people a better chance to escape and making it safer for firefighters to enter the building.

But thick black smoke kept billowing up and was being sucked back into the ventilation system on the other side of the building. In the national military command center, where the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs were scrambling to rally the nation's defenses, the smoke was bad and getting worse.

Kevin Hawkins raced to the fifth floor to shut the vents that were sucking foul air into the building, one of a team of mechanics and electricians who stayed on the job despite warnings over their walkie-talkies that still more planes were headed toward the Pentagon.

"We were just getting radio messages over our handhelds that there was a report of three additional aircraft inbound, and they started the 20-minute countdown, 15, 13, 10, 7," says Carter.

Carter told Dave Brown, one of his foremen, to disperse his crew.

"If something happened we'd still have folks that could operate the building," says Brown.

"We were down to about the four minute mark ... and about that time, a terrible roar – a jet – could be heard coming, and I can remember swallowing and feeling every hair ... on my body stand up on end," says Carter. "I looked up to see a military aircraft with missiles on the wing tips streak across the top of the Pentagon, and at that point ... the chills, everything just kind of subsided and I knew at that point there, nothing more bad was going to happen."

The pilots who flew over the Pentagon on Sept. 11 were honored at a ceremony Tuesday, but it was Carter and his blue-collar warriors who really kept the bad from getting worse.



Part 1: How The Pentagon Was Saved On 9/11
  • Jaime Holguin

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