Members of the Military District of Washington (MDW) Engineer Company (Technical Rescue) walk into the causeway between E ring and D ring of the Pentagon on September 12, 2001. They were in the middle of a secondary search for bodies, and just finished searching their sector of the D ring. The morning before, in an attempt to frighten the American people, five members of Al-Qaida, a terrorist group of fundamentalist Muslims, hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, then flew a circuitous route returning to Washington and impacting the Pentagon killing all 64 passengers onboard and 125 people on the ground. The impact destroyed or damaged four of the five rings in that section of the building. Firefighters fought the fire through the night. (Photo courtesy of National Archives)
By Alexandra Shea, Fort Jackson Public Affairs
“I’m going to the Pentagon for finance,” said Fort Jackson’s Chief of Staff Col. Timothy R. Frambes.
It would be the last words he spoke to his wife before heading out for the day on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hours would pass as his wife and the world watched the news together and bear witness as two commercial airplanes crash into the World Trade Center and then another into the Pentagon.
“All the circuits were busy,” Frambes recalled a recorded message when he tried to call home. “I talked to my brother first.”
Frambes never made it to the Pentagon that day. He was rerouted to Fort McNair, in the nation’s capitol, to meet his future boss as he was intended to take the mantle of special assistant to the Chief of Military History.
It took less than 30 minutes for all of that to change.
“This was in 2001. We didn’t have televisions everywhere,” he said. “Someone came in and said ‘Hey, there’s something going on in New York.’ So we watched the news in the conference room. It was on NBC. I remember it was Jim Miklazewski … ‘Breaking news from the Pentagon, there’s been an explosion at the Pentagon.’”
Frambes and fellow staff members raced outside their building. Less than a mile away they could see a large plume of black smoke coming from the direction of the Pentagon.
“It was that quick,” he said. “Sept. 10, 2001 was the last day of blissful peace.”
As the day passed, all service members were ordered to shelter in place while civilian and contract personnel were evacuated off military installations nationwide.
All news networks broadcasted firefighters and first responders race to the towers, Pentagon and a third location … an unassuming field in Pennsylvania where ordinary people performed extraordinary feats to thwart a fourth hijacked plane from reaching its intended destination.
“At the time we lived at Fort Meade, Maryland. I had to travel I-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to get home,” Frambes said. “It was empty.”
Those familiar with the Baltimore-Washington Parkway often call it the B-W Parkway and know it’s infamy for slow moving traffic and aggressive drivers. Prior to 9/11, many would say the only time one would find the beltway empty is during the zombie apocalypse.
After being released for the day, Frambes was ordered to report to Fort Myer, the site where a Casualty Operations Center was stood up. There, accountability of personnel was collected and the category of “Duty Status-Whereabouts Unknown” was established.
“Those who didn’t report in, that became the draft casualty list,” he said. “When I was given that list I saw the names of a few that I knew.”
He immediately spoke up and offered his services as a casualty assistance officer for those names he knew. Due to regulation, his rank and his close ties to those personnel, Frambes was not assigned to those cases.
The old saying, “it’s a small Army,” just got smaller for Frambes.
He was assigned a case for a female G1 government service, or GS, employee who perished when the plane slammed into her office.
For a year, Frambes would work with her spouse to arrange for her burial at Arlington National Cemetery, final disposition of her personal affects, completing all necessary documents and requests for benefits, and arranging for family members to attend several memorial services attended by the nation’s highest leaders and then President George W. Bush.
“Inventorying the personal affects was the hardest,” he said. “They, chaplains, told us we would take on the grief of the family as we get to know so much about someone we would never meet.”
During that year, members of the Old Guard, 911th Technical Rescue Engineer Company and other responders scoured the Pentagon scar searching for those listed as ‘whereabouts unknown.’
Frambes also scoured the scar with a team designated for artifact recovery.
“Many people don’t know about all the original art and artifacts that were in there,” Frambes said. “All the clocks that were stopped at the same time that are in museums now. Coin collections that were fused together by the heat. We were pulling papers off of printers and copiers just to see the work that was being done at that time this happened.”
Frambes would also end up working for the U.S. Army Training Center and Fort Jackson Commander Maj. Gen. John Van Alstyne who filled the role of senior military officer in the Joint Casualty Operations Center.
Since 2001, Frambes conducted oral interviews with survivors and surviving family members of the 9/11 attacks; deployed multiple times to both Iraq and Afghanistan; became a battalion commander; returned to a tour of duty at the Pentagon; and is now Chief of Staff at Fort Jackson.
He would meet and work with military and civilian personnel along the way that he was inadvertently connected to through his experience at the Pentagon and his work with artifact recovery and collection of oral history.
Though the Army Frambes knew shrank on Sept. 11, 2001, he has since witnessed its growth following 2001 and personally at Fort Jackson as volunteers continued to raise their hands and swear to bear true faith and allegiance to the United States despite the possibility of serving in a time of war.
“Parents who give their consent and provide support to their children who decide to serve, that should be recognized. It’s significant and a huge step.” Frambes said. “It’s amazing knowing people volunteer to serve knowing they may very likely go into harm’s way.”