A day to remember: Sept. 11, 2001

Charlottesville, VA

On Sept. 11, 2001, I drove to my office in Richmond just as I had for the past six and half years. Shortly after 9 a.m., I attended a briefing by our chief operating officer regarding what was going on at the World Trade Center in New York. A portion of that briefing involved watching the national news on TV and seeing the plane hit the second tower. During that briefing there was a news flash which appeared across the TV screen regarding a large aircraft hitting the Pentagon. I must admit, I could not understand how twin accidents could happen within minutes of each other and another air disaster happening at one of the most secure landmarks in America. Like most Americans, I simply did not comprehend what was unfolding in front of my eyes.
After the briefing, I returned to my office to continue my daily tasks and within minutes, I received a phone call from our regional law enforcement supervisor in Northern Virginia. I will never forget his first words, “A plane just hit the Pentagon and we are there. Should we stay here or leave?” I could not understand why he would ask the question and replied, “You are a law enforcement officer and your oath of office demands your presence. Stay there until further notice.” (Note: special agents with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Board are fully commissioned law enforcement officers of the Commonwealth of Virginia.). I ask the regional supervisor for a report.
A few months ago, I was going through some of my old documents and found my original report to Gov. Jim Gilmore dated Sept. 13, 2001. I gave the following report to Gilmore at a secure location away from the state capital:
“On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 14 ABC special agents assigned to our Northern Virginia office were sitting in a classroom when they heard the Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon. Being only several minutes away, they were one of the first law enforcement groups to arrive.
Upon arrival, they found people running in every direction trying to escape the smoke and flames from the burning Pentagon. The injured were screaming for help and the odor of jet fuel was everywhere. According to the agents, “there was complete pandemonium.”
The special agents immediately began helping the survivors of the burning Pentagon, with several focusing their attention on the nursery and day-care units. They worked through the night and yesterday on every aspect of the emergency. Agents were involved with traffic control, evacuation of the survivors, transportation of the wounded to the hospitals, retrieval of bodies, helped with the establishment of a temporary morgue and the collection of evidence.
The Virginia ABC Board is very proud of these special agents and must commend them for their bravery, courage and service to the Commonwealth. ABC special agents receive training through the Department of Criminal Justice Services, Virginia State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement training academies, and they responded accordingly. They are well trained law enforcement officers with the expertise to respond to any emergency.
Thank God for their training and thank God they were there. One can only conclude that they saved the lives of perhaps hundreds of people from the burning Pentagon. We must recognize their valor and courage.
Today, special agents from Fredericksburg and Richmond have relieved the Northern Virginia agents. They will continue assisting local police and the FBI until further notice.”
Since my retirement July 1, 2002, I have had the opportunity to reflect on what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. I simply cannot comprehend nor understand how something like this could happen in the most secure country in the world. Three thousand people died. with billions of dollars in damages. So put yourself into the shoes of one of those special agents, other police officers, fire & rescue personnel and other first responders to the Pentagon or World Trade Center. Think about carrying dying people to the hospitals, sifting for evidence - i.e. human body parts - and other top-secret documents and items. Think about doing this in knee-deep water mixed with jet fuel and the strong odors of burning human flesh, paper and building materials. There is simply no way an ordinary human being can comprehend what happened, not even the people intimately involved. However, there is one thing we need to understand: every person that died that day is a hero, and they died like so many Americans in past wars so other Americans can enjoy liberty, freedom and justice, all of which we took for granted before Sept. 11, 2001.

Clarence W. Roberts,
Law Enforcement, Commonwealth of Virginia
Appointed by Gov. George Allen
Commissioner - February 1994 – July 1, 2002 (Retired)
Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board
Honorable Discharge, May 31, 1969, US Army,
American Legion, Post 74
Charlottesville, Virginia

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