Penry: A ‘surreal, unthinkable scene’
For Josh Penry, then a staffer for U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., the boldest, most disturbing image of Sept. 11, 2001, was the look on the face of a co-worker.
Liz Howell was a colleague on the staff of the House Resources Committee, and she was evacuated from the Capitol with Penry that morning.
“By that point, we knew, and she knew, that the Pentagon had been attacked, the same Pentagon where her husband worked,” Penry wrote in an email to the Sentinel. “She would learn over the next couple of days that her husband was one of the 180-some odd Americans who died there. Her face is what I’ll remember most from that awful, horrible morning.”
Penry and others made their way to a friend’s house, where they crawled onto his roof and looked across at the Pentagon.
“The stench from the fire was in the air,” Penry said. “The military had scrambled fighter jets in droves, and they were criss-crossing the skies at this incredibly rapid speed. In time, we would learn that those were the jets that had been scrambled to shoot down a fateful flight that, thanks to the heroism of a few regular Americans, would crash in a Pennsylvania field instead.”
How many lives Todd Beamer and the other passengers on United Flight 93 saved can never be known, Penry said, “but in a city with chaotic streets filled with literally tens of thousands of people, it was many, many, many.”
Washington, D.C., that day was “a surreal, unthinkable scene,” Penry said. “As it all began to unfold, it was obvious even in those first few hours the nation would be changed dramatically by the events of that day.
“I remember thinking and saying over and over, ‘This is our Pearl Harbor.’ Little did we know how profound and lasting that change would be.”