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To Hell and Back At The Pentagon

Of those who died in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, 125 perished simply because they came to work in the area of the Pentagon where hijacked American Airlines flight 77 hit the sprawling building. The greatest number of casualties occurred among Army and Navy men and women. Some of those who survived the inferno shared their memories of that horrible day. CBS News National Correspondent Thalia Assuras reports.

"I've never been to hell but that was enough for me that day," says U.S. Army Sgt. Major Tony Rose.

"It was like being in a kiln. It was just cooking and cooking and cooking," says Capt. Michael Smith of the Arlington County Fire Dept.

"The miracle of surviving the initial blast and not being instantly killed, and then the miracle of being able to escape from my space is just, that's how it is, it's a miracle," says Lieutenant Kevin Shaeffer.

Purgatory and salvation - both in a matter of hours - scarred and strengthened the Pentagon and many of its people that day.

"I was blown off my feet into the pylon…just like some invisible hand pushed me," says Rose. He had no idea a jetliner had just slashed diagonally through his second floor work space- an area still under reconstruction today.

"The fluorescent lights were blowing, wires are dangling, we're sucking up smoke," he says. He couldn't see or stand, could barely breathe in the smoke, but he knew what he had to do: get people out.

"When we came out of this room, we were low crawling, elbows and knees and by the time we were in the smoke in the hallway we were literally on the floor slithering," he says.

A floor below, the first team of local firefighters was wading into the disaster zone, Capt. Smith leading.

"We were feeling tremendous amounts of heat and a lot of anxiety about the whole situation, but mostly a sense of loss because everywhere we started to look we lifted sections of wall and looked under and we were finding no one," says Smith.

But there were survivors trapped elsewhere along flight 77's deadly path.

"We heard other people in the rubble so we started helping them by digging," says Rose. "And this man's hand grabbed me by the wrist. We pulled some debris off his face. He looked me right in the eye and I said, 'you're going to be all right. Help is here.' He was scared to death."

In another part of the building, 30 -year-old navy Lt. Shaeffer was engulfed by the explosion.

"My whole body was just doused with jet fuel," says Shaeffer.

Still wrapped in burn garments today…

"I ingested the jet fuel into my lungs and immediately thereafter everything exploded and I was set ablaze," he says.

Of 30 people in his office, he was the sole survivor, crawling out through a hole blasted by the airplane turned missile.

"Next memory I have is a vision of, I'll call him my angel because to me he was very angel-like that day," says Shaeffer.

Army Sgt. Steve Workman, frantically looking for survivors had found none - until he stumbled on Shaeffer.

"His hands were covered with blood and his arms, the skin was just literally hanging off his arms," says Workman. "He looked at me. You could tell he was scared and obviously burned. The first thing that he said to me was: please don't let me die. And you know, when he made contact to me eye to eye, it wasn't going to happen. I just, whatever it was going to take, it was going to happen."

Workman would not leave Shaeffer's side, riding with him to the hospital

"I felt we had made this bond," says Shaeffer.

It took a team of doctors to save him.

"They were trying to tug and pull these rings off my fingers," remembers Shaeffer. "I heard the doctor call out for the ring cutters and I yelled out to stop. I was able to focus all my will and strength that I had and take off my wedding band and I took off my class ring and I handed them safely to someone standing by and I remember thinking to myself, okay. I'm done. Now you can save my life."

But firefighters couldn't save the stricken portion of the Pentagon.

"I was just like, this is our Pentagon," says Smith. "I mean you know, what's going on? I mean this is our country and I felt very angry at that point too, that we were sucker punched."

As the day wore on, the rescue efforts became instead, a grim search for body parts.

"I picked up a child's hand. That was it. Just a child's hand and that's when I got angry. To wonder why someone could do this. You can come after me. I'm a soldier. I have sworn to protect and defend, but that wasn't right," says Rose.

Over the past year, each of these men has worked hard to make other things right taking strength from their experiences.

"I've healed so much in this past year," says Shaeffer as he reaches out to hug Workman. "Steve is the brother that I never had. And Steve never had a little brother and I am his little brother. And we love each other like brothers now."

"A lot of things have changed for me in my life that I just used to take for granted," says Workman. "Tell your loved ones on a day to day basis that you love them. It's very important."

Sgt. Workman received the soldier's medal for his actions.

Sgt. Major Rose pulled seven sailors out of the rubble and was honored with two medals - the Purple Heart and the Soldier's Medal.

As for Lt. Shaeffer - he can't wait to get those rings back on his fingers and to start a family with his wife Blanca.