Soldier Stories

Explore the personal histories and profiles of Soldiers who were forever impacted by the events of September 11, 2001.

By National Museum of the United States Army

Due to the sensitive nature, and considering the time frame and equipment with which they were captured, the majority of the photographs used in this exhibit will appear pixelated.

Artist-in-Residence (2015) by U.S. Army Center of Military HistoryNational Museum of the United States Army

Sgt. Maj. Amy Brown

Amy Brown was sitting in her high school’s budget office when she heard, over the radio, the moment that American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. 

“The students were not comprehending it. It did not seem real. I knew I was changed. I knew my calling was changed.”

Amy Brown grew up in Apex, North Carolina. While she originally wanted to be a farmer as a child, she realized while in high school that she was destined to be an art teacher. Brown was sitting in her high school’s budget office when she heard, over the radio, the moment that American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.

“Is that real?” she asked a fellow teacher. When the bell rang for second period, her students arrived crying and distressed. Together they watched the footage. “I knew my calling was to be a teacher, and to serve my community. [But] I knew at that moment my life’s calling was to serve my country.”

Within weeks of September 11th, Brown would go to speak with Army recruiters. She didn’t want to leave her job as a teacher, however. Later admitting it was the hardest decision of her life, Amy Brown would quit her job and enlist in the military full time. Brown served for almost ten years before being chosen for the prominent position of the Army’s official artist-in-residence, where she used her talent to relate the experiences of the common Soldier though art.

Her combat deployments include both Afghanistan and Iraq, but Brown admits her most rewarding time in the Army was spent with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). It was here that she helped to identify and repatriate missing Soldiers in both Vietnam and India.

As an eighth generation Soldier, Sgt. Maj. Amy Brown is the first woman in her family to wear the uniform. Being a noncommissioned officer, and building relationships while teaching and mentoring younger troops, is what 1st Sgt. Brown loves the most about the Army. “It’s in my blood to be a teacher… I don’t feel like I ever had to change who I was. I was an art teacher. I have a big heart. You can be yourself and really thrive in the Army.”

Chap. (Col.) Khallid Shabazz Headshot by U.S. ArmyNational Museum of the United States Army

Chap. (Col.) Khallid Shabazz

Chaplain Khallid Shabazz is the highest ranked Muslim chaplain in the history of the United States Army. 

After facing intense adversity, Khallid Shabazz joined the military, found Islam, and created a life for himself. In this oral history interview, hosted by the National Museum of the United States Army, Chaplain (Colonel) Khallid Shabazz discusses the hatred he faced as a Muslim Chaplain around and in the wake of September 11, 2001, and his mission in life to lead with love.

Chap. (Col.) Khallid Shabazz Interview (2021-06-08) by National Museum of the United States ArmyNational Museum of the United States Army

Chap. (Col.) Khallid Shabazz

Sgt. Larry Bowman by UnknownNational Museum of the United States Army

Sgt. Larry Bowman

Sergeant Larry Bowman, Religious Affairs Specialist/56M, Battery C, 1-258th Field Artillery, 42d Rainbow Division, New York Army National Guard, served in the New York Army National Guard from 1976 to 2001. 

When not on duty, he worked as a security guard at the World Trade Center and a first responder. The last radio communication with Bowman indicated he was climbing a stairwell in the South Tower to unlock additional doors for firefighters. Bowman went into the smoking buildings three times to rescue victims. The last time he did not come out.

On October 23, 2002, he was awarded the New York State Medal for Valor.

1st Lt. Alexandra Weisser (2020-07-18) by Maj. Robert FellinghamNational Museum of the United States Army

1st Lt. Alexandra Weissler

Following in her family’s footsteps as a public servant, and honoring the legacy of her uncle Vinny, Alexandra Weisser applied to and received her appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. 

“I really believed I was picking up where my uncle left off.”

Lieutenant Vincent F. Giammona was a New York City Firefighter with Ladder 5. On his 40th birthday, Giammona was assisting in the evacuation efforts in the South Tower when it collapsed.

A platoon leader and UH-60 helicopter pilot with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, Weisser’s passion led her to provide patient care in the Army, much like her uncle did as a firefighter. 1st Lt. Weisser displays a flag of heroes behind her desk, with her uncle’s name listed among the heroes.

Sgt. Lawrence A. Provost (2002) by Sgt. Lawrence ProvostNational Museum of the United States Army

Sgt. Lawrence "Larry" Provost

On the morning of September 11, 2001, after watching the attacks on television, Larry Provost rushed from upstate New York to Ground Zero where he assisted with search and rescue efforts. 

As a member of the Army Reserves, he later deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the Global War on Terrorism. In this oral history interview hosted by the National Museum of the United States Army, Provost talks about these experiences.

Sgt. Lawrence "Larry" A. Provost Interview (2021-06-29) by National Museum of the United States ArmyNational Museum of the United States Army

Sgt. Lawrence "Larry" Provost

Col. Cyril Rescorla (2019) by National Museum of the United States ArmyNational Museum of the United States Army

Col. Cyril "Rick" Rescorla

Rick Rescorla, a former platoon leader in Vietnam who was awarded both the Purple Heart and Silver Star, earned a reputation for singing Cornish and Welsh battle hymns during times of crisis to lift the spirits of Soldiers around him. 

“I have to get these people out safely.”

After serving in Vietnam, Rescorla entered the field of private security. He became vice president for security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, located on the 44th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

It was in this position that he witnessed the 1993 World Trade Center truck bombing. The attack confirmed to Rescorla that the building was vulnerable to future attack and he implemented a comprehensive emergency action plan to keep his employees safe. This included regular, timed, emergency evacuation drills to ensure all employees knew how to exit the building by stair.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Rick Rescorla heard the explosion caused by American Airlines Flight 11 striking the North Tower. He immediately began evacuating employees from the South Tower, ignoring instructions from the Port Authority to remain at their desks.

Armed with a bullhorn, he directed people down the stairwells and continued to calm employees after United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower. He successfully evacuated more than 2,000 employees from the building. After getting his staff out of the building safely, Recorla went back inside to continue the evacuation efforts. He was last seen on the 10th floor heading upwards shortly before the South Tower collapsed.

CWO5 Edward Brotonel Headshot by U.S. ArmyNational Museum of the United States Army

CWO5 Edward Brotonel

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Edward Brotonel took part in the Army’s initial response to the September 11 attacks, known as Operation Noble Eagle. 

“It was at that time that I felt what the incident really was. I made a comment to my commander, I think this is war.”

Edward Brotonel's father’s service in the infantry during World War II, in addition to a high school dream to become a detective, lead him to the Army. Brotonel began his 29 year career as a military policemen before becoming a special agent at the Army Criminal Investigation Command Team (CID). He was stationed throughout the country, and three times in Korea, investigating crimes involving fraud, theft, and black market operations.

On September 11, 2001, CWO5 Edward Brotonel was at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, serving as an assistant operations officer assigned to the Washington CID District (Battalion) when he learned about the attacks on the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. He drove back to Fort Myer, Virginia, because all flights were grounded.

That evening, Brotonel was assigned to assist the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with recovery of aircraft parts at the Pentagon. Members of the CID would eventually find the “black box” flight data recorders from American Airlines Flight 77 among the wreckage.

In the weeks that followed, Brotonel would be placed in charge of the Emergency Operations Center of the CID Task Force, which assisted the FBI with the recovery efforts. Working the night shift from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., he fielded requests to investigate suspicious activities in both New York and Washington, D.C.

Edward Brotonel retired from the Army shortly thereafter, in 2003. He served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005 as a Department of the Army civilian criminal investigator with the Coalition Provisions Authority-Iraq Inspector General. He was recalled to active duty by Army CID in 2012 in order to participate in a major fraud investigation which lasted 5 years.

CWO5 Edward Brotonel Audio Interview (2001/2021) by U.S. Army Center of Military HistoryNational Museum of the United States Army

CWO5 Edward Brotonel

Lt. Col. Karen J. Wagner Headshot by U.S. ArmyNational Museum of the United States Army

Lt. Col. Karen J. Wagner

Karen Wagner was raised in the Army. Her grandfather fought in the infantry in World War I and her father served as a combat medic during both World War II and the Korean conflict. 

“Put your faith in the Army.”

Karen Wagner was raised on Army posts in Kansas and Texas where she listened to her father recount his experiences in war. Those stories inspired Wagner to join JROTC and then ROTC, working towards her ultimate goal of becoming an Army officer.

Like her father, Karen Wagner chose the Army medical branch with a focus on administration in Health Services Human Resources. She focused on the human aspect of her job. Wagner understood that things like promotions, commendations, station assignments, and patient care quality, were at the heart of a Soldier’s Army experience and she strove to ensure that Soldiers were treated compassionately.

Wagner’s work stood out and she was transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center as the brigade executive officer and deputy commander. In that role, she managed the brigade staff as well as the health and welfare of the Soldiers stationed at Walter Reed. Again, she excelled in that position and was promoted to lieutenant colonel and was assigned to be the medical branch representative to the deputy chief of staff for Army personnel at the Pentagon in August 2001.

On September 11, 2001, Lt. Col. Wagner was at her desk in the Pentagon when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the building. Karen Wagner was last seen as she headed back to her desk, telling coworkers, “let’s get back to work.”

Then Came the Fire (2011) by U.S. Army Center of Military History, ed. Stephen J. LofgrenNational Museum of the United States Army

Then Came The Fire

“Then Came the Fire: Personal Accounts from the Pentagon, 11 September 2001”

Stephen J. Lofgren (editor), U.S. Army Center of Military History (editor)

Excerpt:

The horrific events of September 11, 2001, now ten years in the past, are seared into the memories of all who witnessed the attacks that fateful day. To observe the fires in the Twin Towers in New York City and the towers’ ultimate collapse was heart-wrenching. This was further compounded for many who watched in nearly equal horror as a black plume of smoke arose from the Pentagon after it too was struck by suicidal terrorists in a hijacked commercial airplane.

Although not as dramatic or as deadly, the attack on the Pentagon that day was almost as shocking as that on the World Trade Center. The terrorists, apparently inspired by a twisted version of Islam and a deep hatred of the United States, had successfully struck the nerve center of American military power.

The attack on the Pentagon on that clear September day will not soon be forgotten by any who watched it, but even less so by those near or inside the building as the jetliner slammed into the side of the structure and its lethal cargo of jet fuel ignited, burning through offices and hallways.

The intense heat, fire, and smoke killed many instantly and drove thousands into the corridors of the five-sided headquarters to save themselves and to locate and aid coworkers. Still others, first responders and health care professionals, rallied to the building from nearby medical, police, and fire facilities to find survivors, triage and treat the wounded, and bring a semblance of order to the chaos.

Each individual directly affected by the attack on the Pentagon has his or her own unique and important story to tell, and it is vital as every year goes by that each voice is heard and remembered.

This collection of oral histories highlights the personal accounts of over fifty such participants who witnessed some aspect of the events in the Pentagon that day: those wounded, the first responders, medical personnel, rescuers, those rescued, those who moved through the rubble for days afterwards hoping to find more alive, and building occupants who began picking up the pieces.

This volume, assembled by the diligent efforts of the historians at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, seeks to ensure that the voices of all those involved will continue to be heard now and for years to come.

This book is free and available for download at https://history.army.mil/html/books/070/70-119-1/index.html.

Colonel Marilyn Wills (2011-12-15) by Spec. April YorkNational Museum of the United States Army

Col. Marilyn Wills

Then-Lt. Col. Marilyn Wills was at her job in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, when the plane struck. She led a group of colleagues out of the Pentagon, lowering them from a second floor window. 

For her valor during the attacks, then-Lt. Col. Marilyn Wills was awarded the Purple Heart and Soldier's Medals. She later deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as a part of the Global War on Terrorism. In these oral history interviews from 2001 and 2002, conducted by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Lt. Col. Marilyn Wills discusses her experiences.

Lt. Col. Marilyn Wills Audio Interview, U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2001-09-13, From the collection of: National Museum of the United States Army
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Lt. Col. Marilyn Wills Audio Interview, U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2002-07-12, From the collection of: National Museum of the United States Army
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Gender Integration for Army Women

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States Army found itself fighting a global war on terrorism and quickly came to recognize the impracticalities of prohibiting women from combat, a realization that led to full gender integration for Army women.

Credits: Story

U.S. Army Women's Museum

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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