Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

‘My Life Changed That Day’ – DHA Staff Recalls 9/11 at the Pentagon

Image of "Merwynn Pagdanganan, a federal health care IT specialist at the Pentagon, was there the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He jumped into action to support the emergency responders aiding and evacuating the injured (Courtesy of Merwynn Pagdanganan).". Merwynn Pagdanganan, a federal health care IT specialist at the Pentagon, was there the morning of Sep. 11, 2001. He jumped into action to support the emergency responders aiding and evacuating the injured (Courtesy of Merwynn Pagdanganan).

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11

Twenty years ago on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, Merwynn Pagdanganan's day began like every other routine workday at the Pentagon's TRICARE Health Clinic.

But at 9:02 a.m., as he walked around the Pentagon's Medical Command Suite, he heard the news that two planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York City.

At about 9:37 a.m., he noticed the lights started to flicker and he felt "some kind of a mild blast." At first, the blast didn't alarm him because the Pentagon was undergoing renovations and "slight shakes were typical."

"But I noticed that something was different, odd, when the lights flickered in the hallway and in the command suite," he recalled.

"I knew then something was up, something was wrong."

Pagdanganan, a federal health care IT specialist, is one of many in the military medical community who were at the Pentagon when hijacked passenger planes hit the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Virginia; with a final hijacked plane being forced to crash into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Most Americans remember the terror, the sense of disbelief, and the confusion that followed. But many also remember the sense of duty, selflessness, and courage that took over individuals and communities across the United States and the world, inspiring them to do something positive to help.

On the 20th anniversary of that day, the Defense Health Agency recognizes, remembers, and honors those who perished in the attacks as well as the survivors and everyone who contributed selflessly to serve others and lend a hand in whatever way possible on that day and in the weeks, months, and years that followed.

For Pagdanganan, the experience profoundly influenced the way he's lived life since then.

"I have so many lessons from that day," he said. "I always tell my family, my kids and friends and all my colleagues to live life to the fullest and continue serving as much as you can. Things can change any minute, any second, and you never know if tomorrow will be the last."

He also remembers "coming together as a nation to help each other out," and says what he lived through that day made him want to continue a life of service and volunteerism supporting the military community. With more than 21 years as a federal employee in health care information technology, he sees his job as "dear to his heart," and his way to continue supporting the military.

On that fateful morning Pagdanganan responded immediately.

Firefighters standing around after an exhausting day and talking
On Sept. 11, 2001, Merwynn Pagdanganan, a health care IT specialist at the Pentagon, helped emergency responders set up Ground Zero at the Pentagon’s courtyard to treat casualties and set up a morgue (Courtesy of Merwynn Pagdanganan).

"It's kind of like that instinct, that motherly instinct," he recalled. "I immediately ran into my office, grabbed the emergency handheld radio, and heard the Force Protection Agency's call for 100% evacuation," he said.

"I immediately went to our command suite and advised them to evacuate, but we still didn't have any idea of what was going on."

As they left the building, everything "was just basically smoking." They later learned what had happened from the news broadcasting outside.

But rather than evacuating for his own safety, Pagdanganan and his colleagues, who did not sustain physical injuries, helped evacuate patients who were in the building "to get them outside, to the north parking lot."

"We established multiple teams to go inside the Pentagon, because we started seeing casualties," he said. "Your instinct is to basically jump in and take action right away, not thinking about calling someone else or calling your family."

"With my colleague, we ran into the center courtyard, Ground Zero, where we helped set up a triage area, along with the Arlington County Fire Department and Police and the Pentagon's Emergency Operations Center," he said.

But another call on the radio mandated for 100% evacuation: "Everyone must leave the building now," he remembers it saying. "We had to evacuate then because we heard there was another plane coming towards us," he said.

"My life changed that day," says Pagdanganan. "I didn't get to talk to my family for almost nine hours - they had no idea what was going on with me - and when they finally saw me, they thought they were seeing a ghost."

"It was a good feeling to finally embrace them, let them know I was safe after seeing all the casualties and people that were hurt," he said.

"But the mission still continued, and even though my family didn't want me to go back for safety reasons, for me, I still felt I had to go in every day."

He said one of the biggest things he learned that day is "we have so many great people out there helping each other."

"We tend to forget what we, as individuals, can do out there if we help each other out," he reflected. "So, of course, for me, this will never end, it's a dear part of my heart, it's in me."

You also may be interested in...

Since 9/11, These 8 Military Medical Advancements are Saving Lives

Article
9/14/2021
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Derek Weida jokes with a physician during his prosthetic leg fitting at a prosthetics clinic in Las Vegas in April 2018.

Years of military conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan brought innovations that completely transformed the Military Health System's approach to combat casualty care. Here's a list of just a few ways military medicine has evolved in the two decades since the 9/11 attacks.

Recommended Content:

Research and Innovation | Health Care Technology | MHS Remembers 9/11 | Education & Training | Medical Education and Training Campus

Remembering 9/11: Military Health Leaders Reflect 20 Years Later

Article
9/14/2021
Onlookers view the collapsed side of the Pentagon building.

Military Health System leaders recall their 9/11 stories.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11

Somber Ceremony at DHA Headquarters Evokes Vivid Memories of 9/11

Article
9/10/2021
Defense Health Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald Place and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg bow their heads for the invocation prayer during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, at DHA headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia, Sept. 10.

Vivid memories and somber reflections marked an emotional ceremony at Defense Health Agency headquarters on Friday as the military medical community remembered and honored the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11

9/11 20th Anniversary Message from DHA Leadership

Video
9/8/2021
9/11 20th Anniversary Message from DHA Leadership

Our commemorations of the terrorist attacks on our nation twenty years ago serve as a somber reminder of the loss on 9/11 and in the days and years that followed. Lt. Gen. Ron Place, DHA Director, and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, DHA Senior Enlisted Leader, share their message honoring the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11

September 11: USU Answers the Call

Publication
9/12/2016

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.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11

Pentagon Scene

Photo
9/11/2016
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. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass.)

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11 | MHS Remembers 9/11

Pentagon Flag

Photo
9/11/2016
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)

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11 | MHS Remembers 9/11

Pentagon Ruins

Photo
9/11/2016
Pentagon Ruins

A section of the Pentagon lies in ruins 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. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Michael W. Pendergrass)

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11 | MHS Remembers 9/11

Garrison Flag at Pentagon

Photo
9/10/2016
Garrison Flag at Pentagon

The garrison flag is hung from the still smoldering Pentagon by service members and firefighters. (DoD photo)

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11

Defense Health Agency Remembers September 11th

Video
9/8/2016
Defense Health Agency Remembers September 11th

The Director of the Defense Health Agency, VADM Raquel C. Bono, reflects on September 11th for its 15-year anniversary. To learn more, visit: www.health.mil/MHSRemembers

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11 | MHS Remembers 9/11

MHS Remembers 9/11

Video
9/6/2016
MHS Remembers 9/11

On September 11, 2001, an airplane slammed into the side of the Pentagon as part of the terrorist attacks that would become known simply as 9/11. We honor those who died during the attacks, and we also recognize the heroes who responded to the attack on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, the World Trade Center in New York City, and the crash site of flight 93 located near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11 | MHS Remembers 9/11

Former Pentagon clinic chief Talks with First Responders

Photo
9/5/2016
Former Pentagon clinic chief Talks with First Responders

Dr. James Geiling (center), at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, talks with local first responders and senior military commanders after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11 | MHS Remembers 9/11

Former Pentagon clinic chief surveys scene at the Pentagon

Photo
9/5/2016
Former Pentagon clinic chief surveys scene at the Pentagon

Dr. James Geiling, at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, surveys the scene after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11 | MHS Remembers 9/11

Former Pentagon clinic chief directs medical response

Photo
9/5/2016
Former Pentagon clinic chief directs medical response

Dr. James Geiling (back to camera, in the blue vest), at the time an Army colonel in charge of the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic, directs the medical response after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11 | MHS Remembers 9/11

Advances in Trauma Care since 9/11

Publication
9/1/2016

Extremity injuries are the leading cause of combat injury. Survivability from these often complex wounds has increased remarkably in recent conflicts, due to improved body armor; changes to combat tactics, techniques and procedures; and improvements in combat casualty care.

Recommended Content:

MHS Remembers 9/11
<< < 1 2 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 2
Refine your search
Last Updated: September 10, 2021

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.