September’s Winning Reader Essays: 9/11 at the Pentagon

We received dozens of excellent essays and responses to our “Blue Star Stories” initiative that began last month.

Our first prompt for Veterans United Network readers was this: “We want you to tell us about the best day of your military career and your worst.” Your responses covered some incredible ground. We wanted to highlight a couple of responses over the next two days. 

The first essay is from Navy veteran Jennifer Hardeman. She’ll receive a $50 credit to the Veterans United company store. Check out her outstanding response below, and look for the October writing prompt soon.

-Levi

Navy Veteran Jennifer Hardeman tells her story.

Photo of the author from boot camp.

Name: Jennifer Hardeman

Branch: Navy

Status: Retired

Worst Day: 9/11/01

I am one of the “lucky” ones whose life was saved that day. I woke up that morning thinking it would be a day like all the rest: go to work, do my job and go home. But a sequence of events took place that, now as I look back at them, was not at all the norm.At the time, I was an Information Systems Tech, 2nd Class in the U.S. Navy stationed at the Pentagon. That morning, I was sent to work from one of our offices located in the Command Center. As I walked in, I watched as the events happened in New York at the Twin Towers.Somehow, I knew this was no accident, and that if that could happen at the Twin Towers, why couldn’t it happen here at the Pentagon?

Trusting An Inner Voice

After calling my mom to inform her of the news, I took a cigarette break to step away from the horrible scenes on T.V. As everyone must know, the Pentagon is huge, so as I went outside, there were a few options of places to go. As I pushed the door to go to a nearby smoking area, I heard an inner voice. It told me to go the other direction. For some reason, I trusted this voice, so I went the other direction, into the center courtyard.

Once outside, I shared my thoughts of “How it could happen here” to someone else taking a break. They chuckled and stated, “This is the safest place to be!” Somehow I felt differently. Not five minutes later, the ground shook, and I saw smoke coming from where my office was located. That’s when the plane hit.It hit my office. I wasn’t inside. Everything I had seen, everyone I had talked to 20 minutes before…Gone.

I literally ran for my life. I had never been so scared.

I soon realized if I would have gone to the smoking area I was initially headed toward, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I soon found out the plane crashed right into where my office was located. It killed at least seven people I worked closely worked with and became friends with. This seemed unreal to me because if I would have been five minutes earlier or later…who knows.

Navy veteran who survived an attack on the Pentagon.

Our first “Blue Star Stories” is a powerful essay about a Navy veteran who survived the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.

Seize the Day

Since that day, I have been through more hardships that hopefully most will never have to face. I have learned a lot through all of this, and this has molded me into the person I am today.

My point of sharing this is to also share some important things I learned from it all. Hopefully it will help someone think in a different way, because this comes from someone who has been through it and lives it everyday. “Why me?” used to be a common thought running through my mind. But I realized that most things are out of our control.

For whatever reason, bad things do happen to good people. If I kept wondering why I am here and others aren’t, then I would be miserable. On top of that, I might miss the opportunity to carry out the purpose I am still here on earth to do. Be thankful for what you have and that you are here.

Realize that no one is promised tomorrow. Don’t assume that you will be given that chance to do something you should have done today. Don’t live your life saying “Shoulda, coulda, woulda” or “What if?” No one can change the past.

Things happen for a reason.

Respect: Give it; show it!

Everyone has a purpose, a reason why we are here. So please don’t complain or waste that time being negative. That is definitely not your purpose!

Follow your heart; your inner voice. It will lead you in the right direction. Trust me! Take every situation that comes your way as a learning experience. It will make you a stronger, better person.

Hug. Say “I love you.”

Please take a moment to remember all the people who lost their lives.

Photos courtesy Jennifer Hardeman and usarmyband