Cambria County — On the morning of 9/11, 2001 Cambria County’s Dan Pfeilstucker was working as a contractor, making repairs to the Pentagon.
The day started routinely enough. He was called to the second floor to fix a leak.
“I stepped off the elevator and the plane hit probably 60 to 80 feet behind me,” Pfeilstucker said.
“I was thrown into a telecommunications closet and the door shut behind me. The door was really hot and it was pitch black. It cut all the power and you couldn’t see.”
Through the smoke and in the dimly lit corridor, he crawled to the center of the Pentagon, where there was an open-air courtyard.
“There was a ton of people screaming, help me, help me! You know the whole way out. I was covered in jet fuel and from the water from the sprinklers. My clothes were completely soaked, and I grabbed a hold of the guy that was beside me. I grabbed him and said ‘Come on, we’re going to go this way,’” Pfeilstucker explained.
Pfeilstucker knew that terrorists had hit the World Trade Center earlier that morning. But he never thought the Pentagon would be a target. It was only after he finally made it out of the building that reality set in. He watched as a section of the five-sided building collapsed.
“When I came out, it had just fallen down, like the dust and everything. The wedge right there. The big chunk was out, that had fallen, that outer E-ring as it’s called fell just as I came around.”
His timing that day saved his life. “Where I fixed the leak, 11 people died.”
“NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS”
“Never in a million years” would the Pentagon be directly attacked. That’s something many thought that day, including WPXI editor Damian Catanza, who at the time was working for CNN as an editor and director, covering the attack on the Pentagon. Catanza recalled that fateful day.
“You see the glow. you see the smoke, and there’s soldiers everywhere. This is America.”
Even twenty years later, the memories come rushing back. “You just remember everything like the smells. It’s like one of those things that could have been yesterday.”
The attacks were just the beginning — not the end — because the nation was at war. It was a surreal feeling for those in the nation’s capital.
“This doesn’t happen here especially not in Washington DC. You know that’s the center of power, the center, that should be the most protected place. you just felt like oh my gosh if they could get the Pentagon, what else can happen,” Catanza said.
Catanza and Pfeilstucker both recall how in the days following September 11, 2001, the country grew closer, sharing a collective vulnerability.
While the memories of that day haven’t faded, the binds that brought the country together in those following months have frayed.
Dan Pfelistucker alluded to the events of this year, the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January, and the polarization of the country, noting that sense that we were all in this together after 9/11 has been lost.
“We just talked about this at work. you know one guy said about 9/11 coming up, he says I wish every day in this country was 9/12 compared to what’s it’s like now.”