Target Pentagon: An eyewitness account

DeWayne Bartels
Firefighting crews pump water into the Pentagon Building located in Washington, District of Columbia (DC), minutes after a hijacked airliner crashed into the southwest corner of the building, during the 9/11 terrorists attacks.

Editor’s note: This is a story reprinted from 10 years ago. It was first published in the Peoria Times-Observer. The subject of this story, Merle Widmer, is the brother of Loretta Funk, a resident of the Apostolic Christian Home of Eureka.

As Merle?Widmer stood outside the Army and?Navy Country Club at 10:43 a.m. Eastern time in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 11, he heard a loud roar.

“I had gotten tired of watching the disaster unfold in front of us on TV. I went outside and heard this tremendous roar,” Merle, a Peoria County Board member, said.

“All of a sudden, here comes this American Airlines airplane just like a bullet ... It was about 300 yards above us when it went over. It was going right down. I said, ‘Oh, s——, they’re going to hit the Pentagon.’ It sits below the country club about five miles away. We didn’t see it hit, but we heard it. We heard two poofs. The first was the plane hitting the Pentagon. The second was the fuel exploding.”

Merle said he ran for his car and headed toward the Pentagon.

His wife, Claire, had left the country club not long before on a bus tour. Merle feared she might be in the vicinity of the disaster.

“I panicked. I raced down there,” he said.

His fears were justified.

At that exact moment, Claire’s bus was just passing the Pentagon.

“I saw the explosion. I just happened to be looking back and saw the fireball and pluming smoke. I didn’t know what to think,” she said.

“I told the tour guide to look. She said, ‘Oh my goodness. That’s the Pentagon.’ We arrived at the Roosevelt Memorial. National park officers came rushing out. The tour guide said, ‘What is going on?’ At this point, we did not know about the World?Trade?Center being hit. They told her about it and I overheard it.

“We had just gotten off the bus when the D.C. police showed up with sirens going and said, ‘Evacuate the area, get on your buses and leave Washington, D.C.’ We did not know at that time a plane had hit the Pentagon. We made our way to the mall.”

Those on the bus could not get their cellphones to work.

They were all very frightened, Claire said.

Fragmented news reports began coming in on the radio.

“We heard all these reports that airplanes were possibly headed to the White?House, which we were near. We could see it and planes circling it,”?Claire said.

“We could see SWAT teams on the roof of the White?House. We were very frightened realizing we were at the epicenter of what might happen next.”

Meanwhile, Merle got to the Pentagon and was dismayed by what he found.

“There was no security. I parked right in the diplomat parking area, in the back of the Pentagon, on the opposite side where the plane hit the building.

“There was a lot of smoke. I decided I needed to get out of there. I felt the whole area would soon be covered with security,” he said.

As he headed back to the country club, Merle got to the front of the building.

“I felt anger,” he said. “I was full of sorrow and anger.”

Claire, as well, felt a lot of things that day.

“I have to commend Washington, D.C., because I really do feel they were ready for this. What we saw was a very organized mass of people moving,” she said.

“I also felt incredulous. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Then I felt fear, then really disturbed. They defiled our country, they defiled me, they defiled our freedom. It’s a day I’ll never forget.”