Pentagon attack survivor wants to inspire others
Retired Lt. Col. Ryan Yantis was only seconds away from being in the wrong place at the wrong time on Sept. 11, 2001.
Instead, he is a "breathing, talking artifact" of the worst terrorist attack to take place on American soil.
Now a Crystal Lake resident, Yantis was an Army major working in the Pentagon when hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the west side of the Pentagon at
He didn't speak about his experiences on Sept. 11 for several years.
But after receiving help for PTSD, Yantis said he realized the importance of sharing what he can to inspire people to overcome challenges in the face of danger. He also wants to be an accurate witness to history.
"We're essentially in this perpetual forever war trying to stave off the next big, catastrophic attack. And that requires diligence and it requires sacrifice," he said. "But it also requires that we maintain our liberty, that we maintain our good sense and that we don't succumb to the negative."
He shared his story Monday during an appearance at Naperville's 95th Street Library.
Moments after the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center, Yantis was due at a 9:30 a.m. Domestic Operations Military Support meeting.
He was headed to the meeting, on the other side of the Pentagon, when he was stopped by Lt. Col. Henry Huntley in Corridor 4. Huntley was headed to the same meeting, but didn't know where it was.
Yantis said he was frustrated with Huntley's indecisiveness because they were already late. Eventually they confirmed their meeting was in Corridor 7 and arrived about seven minutes late, the exact time, he said, it takes to get from one side of the building to another.
"We walk into the Army Operations Center and the vault door closes behind us," Yantis said. "And the alarms start going off. And you could smell very nasty, caustic smoke and a haze formed."
The Pentagon had been attacked between Corridors 4 and 5.
"Had I been complacent and just followed him, we both would've been at the wrong place at the wrong time and would've been injured or possibly killed by the impact," Yantis said. "It just seemed like everything was burning. There were people running away from the Pentagon and there were people running to the Pentagon."
For the next hour, until everyone they could reach had been evacuated, Yantis and others carried everyone they could out of and away from danger.
"There was no one ordering us to do anything," he said. "It was just men and women. They were wearing uniforms and they were wearing civilian clothes. They were being accountable."
After all the wounded were out of his area, he and other survivors set up in the internal courtyard for three more hours to try to get back into the building to help others.
"It was very futile and it was very frustrating," he said.
Several hours later, Yantis said, his superior told him to "stop playing ranger and get back to work."
He then wrote the initial casualty announcement and escorted media into a
news conference held by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
"That was a very quick, simple news conference, very somber," he said. "We basically said 'Hey, the building is still here. It's still open. We're still doing business. You've hurt us, but you haven't killed us.'"
The next morning, he reported back to the Pentagon before sunrise.
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