“Death, devastation and ruin everywhere” is how Maj. Ryan Yantis remembers 9/11. Most of us do, too, except for one crucial distinction: He was there.
20 years ago, Major Ryan Yantis was a public affairs officer in the Pentagon. September 11, 2001 was business as usual in the crucial military hub. Or it was until 8:46 AM, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Yantis watched from the Pentagon as the aftermath unfolded. Then, the “unthinkable” kept happening.
“When the second one hit there was no doubt in my mind this was a deliberate terrorist attack on America,” he tells The New York Post ahead of 9/11’s 20th anniversary.
Yet Officer Yantis still had a crucial meeting to make. As 9:30 AM closed in, he would escort a senior officer to a meeting elsewhere in the massive building. But the senior officer could not remember where they were supposed to be.
“We stopped in Corridor 4 and we got into a bit of a heated argument over where the meeting was going to be.”
It was fate. By the time they found out where there meeting was supposed to be, alarms were blaring. In a split second, everything turned to chaos.
“The Pentagon had been attacked between Corridors 4 and 5,” Yantis recalls. If the officers had made their meeting on schedule, “we both would’ve been right at the center of the impact and probably severely injured or killed.”
In a flash, the entire westward-facing side of the Pentagon was burning. Yantis’ eyes beheld “a large roll of smoke that came around the corner…” He evacuated and went outside.
9/11 Pentagon Survivor: ‘The people’s cars who were there didn’t drive home for a reason’
Less than 10 minutes have passed at this point. At 9:37 AM, American Airlines Flight 77 was flown directly into the Pentagon. All 59 passengers onboard were killed instantly. The toll on Pentagon staff would not be known for 24 hours.
Amidst the wreckage, Yantis “saw that there were a couple of stretchers. I grabbed one and started… helping carry people out,” he said.
Yantis would retire from the Army in 2006 as a lieutenant colonel. He grew up an Eagle Scout. But nothing could’ve prepared him for 9/11.
Hours of dodging debris, smoke and flames would follow. Yantis ran in and out of the wreckage carrying the injured to emergency aid.
“There was smoke and soot and palpable reminders of death, devastation and ruin everywhere.”
At the height of the crisis, Yantis would remove his shirt to give to a navy officer so “her hair wouldn’t catch on fire.”
As the afternoon took hold, Yantis found himself writing an announcement for his fellow officers and workmates known to have perished so far. Before the end, 125 Pentagon personnel were lost to 9/11. Yet Yantis says the toll didn’t hit him until he came back to the building the next day.
“I arrived at the Pentagon at 5 a.m. It’s still on fire. As I was crossing the south parking lot, it almost had an apocalyptic feel.” As he approached the “huge parking lot,” it was “almost empty except for the handful of cars.”
“And the realization comes over me that the people whose cars were here didn’t drive home for a reason.”