Retired Battalion Chief Dale Smith was one of the first firefighters at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
He was at the military headquarters building to drop his sister off earlier that day. It was her first week working there. Hours later the call came in.
“It wasn’t first reported as a plane,” he said. “It was a bomb.”
When Smith arrived, he looked for his sister. She was working in the part of the building where the plane hit. A cigarette break got her out of the building.
“I don’t agree with smoking,” he said. “But, I’m glad my sister is alive. She never worked at the Pentagon again.”
On Saturday, Smith joined more than 200 other Arlington first responders at the county’s Fire Station No. 5, to remember that day and share stories. They also paid tribute to fallen first responders by laying red roses on a memorial made from steel salvaged from ground zero.
“It just all takes you back,” Smith said.
The fire station is near Kristy David’s old house. She’s been teaching her 7-year-old son, Michael, about the terrorist attack since he asked about a picture of the twin towers.
They stopped by the fire station minutes before the ceremony began with bagels in hand.
“We wanted to give our thanks because this is our hometown station,” said David, who was in London during the attack. “It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years. In a lot of ways it feels like it’s been a long time. But, at the same time, it feels like it was just yesterday.”
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine addressed the crowd, telling them that he has a mix of emotions 20 years after the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
“I’m feeling sadness, anger and pride. I’m proud of first responders and of the troops,” Kaine said. “I’m also relieved that we’re not a nation at war anymore.”