Without argument, one of the darkest and most somber days in American history is the massive terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Countless Americans witnessed The World Trade Center towers, a symbol of financial freedom and power, be destroyed into giant piles of rubble and debris from the plane crashes of American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175. And the tragic attacks of that day didn’t stop only in New York sadly.


The very same day, another group of hijackers flew a third plane into The Pentagon, the headquarters for the Department of Defense. Regardless of your political affiliation, receiving the news that America itself was under attack must’ve been jarring and traumatic to the point where you remember exactly what was happening then. Now, imagine being a first responder to the brutal carnage of the attacks.


Through Reddit, I had the pleasure of hearing the heroic story of Air Force Aeromedical Technician Katie McCay. On September 11, 2001, McCay was stationed at Andrews Air Force base, located only 14 miles away from the Pentagon when she heard via radio that The Twin Towers had been hit and witnessed smoke coming from the way of the Pentagon.


“I went to my commanding officer, who told me it was the Pentagon that got hit.” McKay recollected. “They were calling for all medical staff to go there.”


“I told him I was leaving to go there to help ASAP but he told me to stay put. I then disobeyed a direct order and left the room. Before I left, I called my mom from one of the land lines to tell her I was okay and that they were taking us somewhere secure and not to be frightened.”


McKay then described the chaotic and hellish scenes of the badly damaged Pentagon as she arrived as “orchestrated chaos” and that there was a hole in the building that she believed where the plane itself crashed.


“I mean, there was a hole in the damn building. But, you could still see the desks. Like, someone had been sitting there like an hour ago and typing a report and now they’re just obliterated.”


Among the many horrific sights that day, the one that mentally stayed with McKay was the sight of a tree horribly damaged from the attack.



“There was a big tree, which I assume was green and vibrant at one point but it was black. Like, pitch black with soot. But only on one side. It was the absolute weirdest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The soot around the tree on the walls was black too, giving a great outline. But the tree itself, the tree was black. Have you ever seen a black tree?” she asked rhetorically.


Through an old NBC article, McKay showed exactly how horrific the grotesque tree truly looked.


She said that over the next few days, there was a meeting point in a nearby hotel in Pentagon City for anyone who had medical experience and that McKay herself helped out for the next 7 days, oftentimes for 12-15 hours a day.


“I was working around the clock for however many days it was. I still had to do my regular shift and then go to the Pentagon after, so I wasn’t sleeping. I was barely eating. Hell, barely even talking.”


(Katherine McKay)

But through it all, McKay recollected on the sense of community and that “there was no black, white, mexican. There was “us”. I think that was the biggest heartwarming thing to come out of this.”


Along with medical duties, McKay had the heartbreaking duties of “delivering the news to the next of kin that we found their loved one’s remains and if they wished they could go to the site and see what took place.”


Through it all though, McKay received an Award of Recognition from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for her many heroic actions on 9/11 and the following days.


Do you have your own story of heroism or overcoming odds that you’d like to tell? If so, Tweet me at @CaptainKasoff because I’d love to do a story on it.