Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

Medical Response to 9/11 - Paul K. Carlton Jr.

Image of Lt. Gen. Paul K. Carlton Jr., retired, Surgeon General of the Air Force. Lt. Gen. Paul K. Carlton Jr., retired, Surgeon General of the Air Force

We were a mix of generals and privates, all services . . . but I can’t think of a better group to respond to a crisis. All were cool and calm . . . many . . . had been under fire over the past 30 years. We had SEALs and Special Forces, etc, too . . . very poised. A few civilians, all ex-military. No one postured . . . all were leaders and knew how to take charge but realized there could only be one chief and good followers to make things work. The stretcher team next to me had a 3-star Air Force general on it . . . the junior officer who had the lead asked him if he wanted to take charge – he said: ‘No, I’m just a volunteer on the team Major.’ The volunteers deferred to the medical staff.*

That Air Force general was Lt. Gen. Paul K. Carlton Jr., the Air Force surgeon general, who had run to the DiLorenzo Clinic immediately after the attack.  He arrived in the center courtyard and helped organize the minimal, immediate, delayed and expectant triage teams. Later, Carlton formed four volunteers into a litter team to accompany him into the building to search for survivors.

There was a man on the floor with the floor having just had a fire put out, because it was still smoking everywhere. He was on his back. And as I got low enough to look, the first thing I saw in the room was this man lifting a table. When he lifted the table he didn’t lift it far. He lifted it and then I could see a casualty kind of laid out with his feet to my left and his head to my right, cocked at a funny angle and about a foot and a half off the ground. I subsequently found out he had been sitting in a chair at a table when the building collapse occurred, and the chair arms held and kept the table from crushing him. The table had a lot of debris on it, and so apparently the first two people in the room could not lift it. There was fire on top of the table.

This gentleman laying at a kind of funny angle, had fire right above his head on a cabinet and fire literally at his feet. He looked at us. He looked at us, and he was astonished, with a kind of “I am not awake” look. By that time I had a wet T-shirt over my face . . . I handed a wet T-shirt to the person who was just ahead of me. And I threw a wet T-shirt, and one of us hit him [the man on the ground], which made him shake himself and wake up. He was just out of reach. We very strongly verbally encouraged him to move, so that we could get him. He rolled to his left and there was somebody whose feet I saw at the level end of the table, who grabbed him. The rest of us grabbed him also. About that time, somebody passed me a fire extinguisher. There was fire fairly much all around. I squirted it, and it made it flare up more, which told me it was a fuel fire. The man on the ground was smoking at that time, and I squirted it on him. He didn’t catch fire. He rolled out. The next part then was to get him out. We passed him out.**

People outside yelled, “Get out!”  The loudest cry came from Navy Commander Craig Powell, who was 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds. Before the attack, Powell had been in the section of the building that was now crumbling and so knew people were trapped. He had managed to get to the alleyway and caught five people who jumped out of the building, before helping to rescue the man under the table.  Now he was holding up the roof, which was beginning to crumble.

About three or four people came out with General Carlton. The last man to emerge, Commander Powell, was “chased by a huge flame and smoke, and that was actually the roof letting go.”

The rescued man was Jerry Henson, a retired naval aviator, who coordinated counter-drug operations  and emergency relief from an office on the first floor in the C-ring  in the Navy Command Center. Henson was indeed lucky; 33 of his coworkers in the Navy Command Center died that day.

*An email from William A. Russell, MD, U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, to William Stacy, U.S. Army Forces Command, 19 September 2001.

The complete account is in the book:  Attack on the Pentagon: The Medical Response to 9/11.
By Mary Ellen Condon-Rall, PhD, Borden Institute Fort Detrick, Maryland
Office of The Surgeon General United States Army Falls Church, Virginia
U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School Fort Sam Houston, Texas 2011

**Condensed from an interview of Major General Paul K. Carlton Jr., Air Force Surgeon General regarding Sept. 11, 2001. Interview by the Air Force History Support Office, Washington, D.C., on December 4, 2001. Transcript: Air Force History Support Office, Washington, D.C. Lt. General Carlton served as Surgeon General of the Air Force from  1999 – 2002.

The complete account is in the book:  Attack on the Pentagon: The Medical Response to 9/11.
By Mary Ellen Condon-Rall, PhD, Borden Institute Fort Detrick, Maryland
Office of The Surgeon General United States Army Falls Church, Virginia
U.S. Army Medical Department Center & School Fort Sam Houston, Texas 2011

You also may be interested in...

Publication
Sep 12, 2016

September 11: USU Answers the Call

.PDF | 2.95 MB

USU graduates, faculty and students were among the first responders to New York and Washington, as well as the Pennsylvania crash site. Their extensive training and experience enabled them to react and mobilize quickly, many of them within seconds of the Pentagon attack.

Photo
Sep 11, 2016

Pentagon Scene

A fire fighter from Arlington County, Fire Department surveys the scene during rescue and recovery efforts following the deadly Sep. 11 terrorist attack in which a hijacked commercial airliner was crashed into the Pentagon. American Airlines FLT 77 was bound for Los Angeles from Washington Dulles with 58 passengers and 6 crew. All aboard the aircraft were killed, along with 125 people in the Pentagon. (U.S. Naval photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass.)

A fire fighter from Arlington County, Fire Department surveys the scene during rescue and recovery efforts following the deadly Sep. 11 terrorist attack in which a hijacked commercial airliner was crashed into the Pentagon. American Airlines FLT 77 was bound for Los Angeles from Washington Dulles with 58 passengers and 6 crew. All aboard the aircraft ...

Photo
Sep 11, 2016

Pentagon Flag

Military Service members render honors as fire and rescue workers unfurl a huge American flag over the side of the Pentagon during rescue and recovery efforts following the Sept 11 terrorist attack. The attack came at approximately 9:40 a.m. as a hijacked commercial airliner, originating from Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport, was flown into the southern side of the building facing Route 27. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass)

Military Service members render honors as fire and rescue workers unfurl a huge American flag over the side of the Pentagon during rescue and recovery efforts following the Sept 11 terrorist attack. The attack came at approximately 9:40 a.m. as a hijacked commercial airliner, originating from Washington D.C.'s Dulles airport, was flown into the ...

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
Last Updated: July 11, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery