North Dakota’s 9/11 Survivor, Shares His Story After 15 Years

BISMARCK – This Sunday is the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, which changed our country forever. One North Dakota man witnessed, experienced and survived that tragic day, while at work in the Pentagon, site of the third attack by plane.

Former Bismarck resident Gary Holm recalls to us that tragic day, when  American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the the western side of the Pentagon, claiming 125 lives:

It has now been 15 years since I survived the 9/11 Attack on the Pentagon. My good friend and co-worker, Colonel Dave Scales, was killed and my office was destroyed. This is my story of that fateful day.

As far as I know, I was the only North Dakotan in the part of the Pentagon that was hit on 9/11. Lt. General Jerry Sinn of Minot, who had an office down the hall from me, was away on a trip. A Rugby native and former resident of Bismarck/Mandan, I had just moved to DC from North Dakota the year before. I had been active in North Dakota politics, being a candidate for North Dakota State Treasurer in 1992, State Labor Commissioner in 1994 and State Auditor in 1996.

My office was in the part of the Pentagon that had been totally refurbished just a few weeks before 9/11. New desk, computer, everything. It was my first day back to work after a long weekend. After a couple of hours of work, I heard a commotion in my boss’s office and went in to folk see folks gathered around his TV watching the World Trade Center burn. I went back to my desk and a short while later heard folks exclaiming that the second tower had been hit and that it was probably a terrorist attack. I went back in my boss’s office and someone said maybe the Pentagon would be attacked, but, that was discounted when someone else said it’s the safest building in the world especially now that our part had been rebuilt to withstand any bomb attack.

I went back to my desk and a few minutes later the building shook and there was a “kaboom” followed by people screaming. In shock, I got up and headed for the door. My co-workers yelled at me to come the other way. The direction I was heading was toward the impact area where the fireball came through. They were trying to get an emergency door open so we could get out. We made our way outside the building to see billows of thick, black smoke. We then went out into the parking lot and into what was a surreal scene as we watched the Pentagon burn. It was almost eerily quiet except for people talking and yelling. No sirens. We wondered if someone had called the fire department! 

Although fire trucks and emergency vehicles soon came with sirens blaring, it seemed to take a long time. Then the rumors started to fly as we were standing around. There had been a car bomb at the State Department, the airport had been hit, and another plane was heading in to attack the White House or Capitol.  Nobody’s cell phone worked. Then people thought we were targets out in the open in the parking lot. Seeing a plane in the sky people became scared and apprehensive. We were told to just get out of the area.

I made my way away from the Pentagon, as most everyone did, on foot.  Looking back from time to time I saw the smoke continue to engulf the sky around the Pentagon.  At that time the streets had become parking lots.  I walked past the airport and ran into passengers that had been on planes that had landed en route to different destinations and were told to get out.  They didn’t know where they were or what to do. Women had taken off their high heels and were walking on their nylons. It was like we were refugees or in a disaster movie. 

Everyone was eager for news as to what was going on. I didn’t know. No one did. I walked six or seven miles to where I had parked my Jeep at a subway station and slowly made my way home the rest of the way.

When I finally got home some five hours later, my wife did not know what had happened to me. Someone had left a short message saying I was OK, but, she didn’t know what that meant because she hadn’t been watching TV. When she started getting calls from North Dakota friends and family she found out what had happened and turned on the TV. My wife and I along with all America, in the aftermath, were then glued to the TV.

The next day I started getting calls from Pentagon officials trying to account for everyone. I found out that my office had been destroyed primarily from smoke and water damage from fire on the roof above us.  And, I learned that my good friend and co-worker, Col. Dave Scales, had been killed.  The Pentagon became a fortress with combat vehicles and soldiers all around it. A couple weeks later I went back to work when my office was reconstituted in nearby Alexandria.  All our files and records were no more.  All the “hot” projects I was working on gone.

For several years after 9/11 my body would instinctively “jump” when I heard loud noises. For months after 9/11 fighter jets flew over our neighborhood reminding us of the terrorist threat.

I was selected as Budget Chief for the Army Reserve shortly after 9/11 where I remained through the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq until retiring in 2007.

Today, Survivor Gary Holm, currently lives Virginia. Filed by Piper Combs

 

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