An estimated 190 people died Tuesday when an airliner hijacked by terrorists flew into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. Survivors of the attack are still trying to recover from the shock. Hours and days after the disaster, Pentagon employees were still contacting each other to share their stories and feelings.
"All I could see was stuff flying around and the ceiling coming down and the dust and the smoke and everything and I just somehow got to the escalator or somebody pushed me onto the escalator and we all went down the escalator and then ran for the stairway," said Carol Stevenson.
She had just stepped into the hall when the hijacked American Airlines plane crashed into the section of the building near her office. "We all found a way to get out of one of the corridors and just kept running with all this stuff flying around and pieces of the building coming down," she said.
When she finally got home, the calls began coming in from co-workers checking up. Did she make it? What about the others? During one phone call, she expressed concern about the safety of a colleague. "She left your meeting and then she was in the hallway [and] ... she wasn't back there. ... They have been trying to call her home and they can't find her."
By night's end, the staff member was located. But days later, at least four other colleagues were still missing and presumed dead. "They're some of my closest friends," she said. "They are people I work with on a daily basis."
Carol Stevenson's husband, retired Navy Captain Phil Gay, commanded the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy during the Persian Gulf War. He believes that a U.S. reaction to terrorism must be firm but fair. "They need to think it through," he said. "You certainly don't want to go to the 'Fortress America' mode. I mean, we don't want to live like that."
Carol Stevenson agrees. "It isn't our national character to be violent, to be vengeful, keep this cycle going for generations and generations," she said. "That's not what we're about."
A few days after the attack, she went back to work fighting terror every step of the way.