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‘It’s a day that will stay with me forever:’ 9/11 survivor, responder speak at Broad Run HS

Virginia State Police Sergeant Michael Middleton of Ashburn was conducting a traffic stop nearby when he heard about the explosion over his radio and rushed to the Pentagon to help survivors. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
South Riding resident and retired Marine Lt. Col. Doug Kleinsmith stood no more than 200 feet from the explosion caused by a plane deliberately flown into the Pentagon by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Virginia State Police Sergeant Michael Middleton of Ashburn was conducting a traffic stop nearby when he heard about the explosion over his radio and rushed to the Pentagon to help survivors. Both stood before Broad Run High School students today to share their stories.

When the plane hit the building, Kleinsmith was immediately transported back to his time in combat in Desert Storm. Kleinsmith and the other 23 people in his office knew they had to do one thing: Get out.

“We were trying to make sense of the situation as it was happening,” Kleinsmith said. “As soon as it pushed us backwards, we immediately realized, this is like war. This is like war and we’ve just been attacked.”

Meanwhile, Middleton could feel his cruiser heat up as he got closer to the Pentagon. When he arrived on scene, he entered the building to find the hallway filled with water. The crash had ruptured the water line. Then a wall collapsed on him and another state trooper. They struggled, but eventually made their way through the debris and out of the water.

“You couldn’t see but a foot in front of you because the smoke was real thick,” Middleton said. “Myself and the other officers began a search as best we could.”

The group of officers climbed piles of debris to get farther inside the building. Kleinsmith and his party ended up making their way to the center part of the Pentagon in order to orient themselves. Kleinsmith’s regular route out of the building was blocked by firewalls, and having only been there 30 days, he was not fully familiar with the setup. From the park, Pentagon Police directed them out. Everyone in his office was able to make it out of the building.

The plane crashed into the Pentagon’s bus and Metro terminal, so a co-worker with a car drove Kleinsmith and other personnel to the nearest Metro stop. Kleinsmith remembers the Metro ride home being eerily quiet as the entire city tried to get out. Everyone was in shock, he said. When he walked into his house that afternoon, it was the first his wife and family heard from him since he’d left for work that morning.

Middleton made it to the fourth floor before running into fire and rescue personnel who told Middleton to get out of the building. He did as instructed and collapsed outside shortly thereafter. Middleton sustained first and second degree burns from his throat to his lungs, leaving him with three-fourths of one lung and seven-eighths of the second.

“It’s a day that will stay with me forever,” Middleton said. “It’s something that’ll always be part of you … I’m glad I’m here to share the story with you folks, because you guys are the future who will be taking care of us. I hope you don’t have to go through the tragedy we had to go through that day.”

South Riding resident and retired Marine Lt. Col. Doug Kleinsmith stood no more than 200 feet from the explosion caused by a plane deliberately flown into the Pentagon by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.


Middleton was off duty for two months before returning to work. Kleinsmith and his office were moved to a Marine Corps annex nearby for six months while crews worked around the clock to rebuild the destroyed section of the Pentagon. Almost 200 people died in the Pentagon attack, with another 200 injured. Luckily, the section of the building that had been newly renovated was not fully occupied, Kleinsmith said.

The events of 9/11 left a profound impact on the country. Before the terrorist attacks, Kleinsmith said the protocol for airplane hijackings was to lay low and allow hostage negotiators to end the situation. Now, military and law enforcement personnel are trained to take over the situation within 30 seconds.

Middleton said law enforcement completely changed its emergency response training. Now, troopers train in counterterrorism with the FBI. They also have a Pentagon contact to better coordinate with officials there should another emergency take place.

Prior to 9/11, Loudoun County Public Schools did not allow cell phones in school. This policy was reversed so that in the event of an emergency, parents could reach their children.
Many students in the audience either didn't experience or don’t remember a pre-9/11 world. To the students, Kleinsmith and Middleton had a message of patriotism and hope.

“This is your time. It doesn’t matter of who you are. It doesn’t matter your race, creed, religion,” Middleton said. “This is your country, this is your time.”


Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @VeronikeCollazo.

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