DU professor who worked in the Pentagon reflects back on that day
Monday, Sept. 11, marks 16 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. University of Denver professor Philip Beaver was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Last year, on the 15th anniversary of the tragic attacks, Beaver shared his memories of working that day in the Pentagon.
“I spent 29 years in uniform and I had one bad day and that was 9/11.” Philip Beaver can remember the events of Sept 11, 2001, as if they happened yesterday. Now a professor in the Department of Business Information and Analytics (MSBA) in the Daniels Schools of Business, he was working in the Pentagon on the day of the attacks.
“The fuselage plowed through our offices,” Beaver recalls. “I was at my cubicle when the plane hit. It came in right in line with my desk, but it came at an angle through our office. I was in the corner in what was basically a sweet spot. Nobody in my division was even injured.”
Beaver vividly remembers the frantic moments right after the plane hit. “I saw this huge fireball, and I saw this window coming at me. My initial reaction was: explosion that way, go the other way. I immediately started running toward the outer wing of the Pentagon. After I got down about five or six cubicles, I realized I was going in the wrong direction; the damage was greater down there.”
Beaver went back toward his cubicle. He then spent the next 10 to 20 minutes helping other people evacuate before eventually leaving the Pentagon. It wasn’t until he was outside that he realized the magnitude of what had happened. “I didn’t realize until I was out of the Pentagon and in the south parking lot that it had been a plane. Most of us thought it was a huge explosion.”
I’m very happy to have the opportunity to remind people, yes this did happen, it happened very recently. And it’s still going on.
Some 125 Pentagon workers lost their lives when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the western side of the building. Twenty-eight of those killed worked with Beaver on the second floor in the ‘E’ ring. In the weeks following the attack, Beaver and his co-workers attended more than 30 funerals. “We all wanted to honor the people who had been killed and that was our way to do it,” he says.
Beaver says one thing that likely saved lives that day was the fact the plane hit a renovated wing of the Pentagon. Steel was added to the building during the renovation, and a mylar coating was added on every window at a cost of $1,100 each. “The window that blew in at me just sat there flapping like a sheet. It didn’t break; I didn’t get a scratch on me. I was about five feet from it. I just remember thinking, you don’t see that every day.”
The attack happened on a Tuesday morning. By Thursday, Pentagon staffers were moving to new offices. By Monday morning, they were back to work. “People were devastated. People had lost lots of friends, but we knew we needed to get back to work, and that’s exactly what we did with a new sense of purpose.”
Beaver continued working at the Pentagon as a senior analyst — forecasting personnel strengths — until 2008, when he retired and moved to Colorado. He was retired for two years before he was approached about teaching a statistics class at Daniels. Over the next five years, Beaver helped modernize the MSBA program, which he is now in charge of. “It’s a hobby. I’m retired still. It’s two nights a week, but it really has become my passion. It’s a phenomenal program.”
Although 9/11 was one of his worst days on the job, Beaver does not mind talking about it. He looks at it as an opportunity to educate and remind others of what happened.
“The people out there who wanted to kill us on 9/11 still want to kill us today. Our enemies like the Taliban, like al Qaida, like ISIS, we are an affront to them. They still want us eliminated, and that’s something that we can’t forget. It’s something we need to be reminded of, and it’s something that bothers me and should bother most Americans, and I’m very happy to have the opportunity to remind people, yes this did happen, it happened very recently. And it’s still going on.”