Elizabeth Jones, of Monroe, with her father, Carlton Jones, survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon. Contributed photo
On Sept. 11, 2001, local Monroe historian Elizabeth Jones was working one of her part-time jobs as a bartender – which she did from time to time through her Athens college career to make extra cash. She can’t quite remember why she was in the bar that morning – whether “to do something managerial or maybe opening to sling a few happy hour drinks.”
But what she will never forget is how she felt when she heard that a plane, that third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, had crashed into the western side of the Pentagon, just outside of Washington, D.C.
“A little after 10 a.m., a television was turned on… and someone said, ‘E.J., doesn’t your dad work at the Pentagon?’ I froze. I watched the television, as a few of the other employees gathered around me,” Jones said.
Jones’ father, Carlton Jones, did indeed work at the Pentagon – and he was at work that day.
“My wife had got a job as an intern at the CDC and then she was offered a job the National Hospital in DC, across the road from where Ronald Reagan was shot. I got a job at the Pentagon in 1999 and was in security,” Carlton Jones said. “In 2001 when that plane ran into the building, I was the only one in the office at the time, listening to the radio about what was happening in New York. We were put on alert at almost 9 a.m. in the morning. I told the Sergeant to go down to security and to convey the message to the base. I later found out that message never got out.”
Carlton Jones said he felt the jolt on the building when the plane hit, but did not know what had happened.
“I thought somebody had hit into the wall, maybe with a forklift, then I realized something really had hit us,” he said. “I closed up my office as smoke was starting to come through the vent. Everybody was getting onto the stairway, which was was covered in smoke. We were holding hands to stay in contact as we tried to leave the area. We went past the area where the plane had come in. We were told to call our loved ones and we were told to hide our badges because of a fear of snipers. We didn’t know what was happening so we were taking all precautions. They told us to come back the next day, the 12th, but when we came back we were told to go home again.”
Carlton Jones said the fires were still burning the next day.
“We had to dodge fires to get into the building. There were fires all over the hallway and they were still trying to put fires out,” he said. “The plane had come all the way through into the courtyard. Had the plane continued through all the way, it would have hit us. But it hit the Navy side and there were people killed there.”
He said it was about a week before they could eventually return to the building.
In total 2,977 people died in the attacks that day – 125 of them in the Pentagon. The remaining casualties were as a result of the two planes that were crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the fourth plane that was hijacked and brought down in the field in Pennsylvania.
For many hours on Sept. 11, Jones did not know whether her father was alive or dead. She said when she saw the TV report on the attack on the Pentagon, she immediately called her mother.
“She was surprisingly calm. She explained to me that Daddy had called, and a little plane had crashed in New York. She said the Pentagon was on alert, but it was okay. I asked her to sit down… and I explained,” Jones said, adding she got off the line as quickly as she could. “My parents did not have call-waiting, so I did not want to tie up the line. I got off the phone, but I called to check in periodically. I checked on my little brother and explained the situation to him after I called my mom. I think everyone was in shock. It was terrifying… and surreal at the same time. I recall going home and packing to go to Reston, (VA) to see my mom. I filled the car with gas and started the drive. I remember I was driving so very fast. I felt like I needed to be there to help my Daddy. I needed to DO SOMETHING.
“I remember thinking he could be dead. I wanted to be a part of the solution… the remedy… the answer. My heart was exploding with so many emotions. I wanted to be there for my father and my family. …Then came the reports that the roads and bridges were closing. I would not be able to get to Reston. I felt caged. I came home, and I went to a prayer vigil. I kept calling to check on my Mama. No news. No news. No news.”
Jones said she thinks it was about 10 or 11 p.m. that night before her father finally was able to get hold of her mother and let her know he was safe. But the experience has seared that day into her memory – of how frightening it was for so many, those who lost someone as well as those who came so close.
“My heart aches, and still aches, for all the loss we endured as a country that day. I wanted to be there for so many, and I was so helpless. Every year, I wish we could remember the many stories of the day… to truly Never Forget,” Jones said. “My dad once told me that he had a bag of stuff in the closet from the day the plane hit. I think it smelled like the day of disaster. I think it is important to recognize all the heroes in our lives. I am very proud of my Daddy. He has had an amazing career with the NSA and the Pentagon. More than that, he is an amazing Daddy.”
Photos of Carlton Jones, a survivor of the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 – father of Elizabeth Jones, of Monroe. Contributed photos
Her father went on to retire from the Pentagon in 2004 and now lives back in Georgia in neighboring Gwinnett County. She lost her mother last year, but is proud of the fact that they both had amazing careers. And she will never forget Sept. 11, 2001, how she could have lost her father all those years ago, and how frightening it was for her family that day.