In 2001, Col. Madonna M. Nuce was the Chief of Staff for the Colorado Army National Guard. On the morning of Sept. 11, she and several other Colorado National Guard staff members were making a quarterly visit to National Guard Bureau to discuss funding requests for next fiscal year.
She’s now retired from military service – and enjoying it.
We flew into Washington, D.C. on the C-26 aircraft on Monday morning, Sept. 10, 2001.
We stayed at the Doubletree Hotel directly across from the Pentagon. Many of our rooms had a direct view of the Pentagon. (Mine did not. I was on a low floor of the hotel.)
On Tuesday morning, most of us departed by car to the Army National Guard Readiness Center, which is located a couple of miles from the Pentagon. Brig. Gen. Ronald G. Crowder and his Aide Capt. Rob Bell went to the National Guard Bureau Headquarters located in a commercial building across from the Pentagon.
Lt. Col. Mark Schoenrock, our inspector general at the time, was to meet with someone in the Pentagon.
While I was at the ARNG Readiness Center I walked into one of the offices and saw on TV the replay of the first plane hitting the twin towers. The newscast then showed the second plane hitting the twin towers.
I said out loud. "That was not an accident!" Everyone in the room was of the same mind that something serious was happening. I remember Col. Joel Best saying he had seen a low-flying plane out one of the windows of the ARNG Readiness Center.
I went on with my business and visited one of the NGB Budget Managers to discuss next fiscal year's budget. She said she had been on the phone with someone in the Pentagon and the line had gone dead. She thought that perhaps they (the Pentagon) went into emergency mode and shut off unnecessary phone traffic. A little bit later someone came in and said a plane had hit the Pentagon.
Later, as we were standing in the lobby of the ARNG Readiness center debating what to do, the announcement came over the loudspeaker for all employees to leave the building because they could not be sure if any other federal building was a target of planes. One of the "Colorado 14" had attempted to call back to COARNG headquarters but was cut off and then could not get through again. DSN lines were jammed, cell phones did not work.
We left the building and got into two different cars to go back to the Doubletree Hotel. The traffic was horrible. Every federal employee in the D.C. area was attempting to get home. I remember another Soldier who was in our car knew some shortcuts back to the hotel that did not involve getting on any major street or highway.
We could see the black smoke coming from the Pentagon. We made it back to the hotel, and there were people milling around all over the lobby. They had checked out of the rooms to fly home and could not get out of D.C. because all plane traffic had been shut down.
The Hotel had already booked their rooms for someone else so they had nowhere to go. Many of them spent the night in the lobby because all the hotels in the area were booked solid.
Unable to contact my family back home by cell phone, I raced to my room to use the land line. I tried calling my husband at work and left a message. I was almost crying with relief as I left the message. I was concerned that my daughter in sixth grade would hear about the Pentagon being hit and worry about me. Then I remembered my husband was taking my car for a new windshield that morning, so I left a message at home, also. He called me back later and it was a relief to hear his voice and know that my daughter was handling the issue well and that my family at home was safe and sound.
My next call was to my parents. My brother answered the phone. He said my mom was hysterical because the local news had announced that the section of the Pentagon that was hit was where National Guard Bureau was located. My mom knew I was in D.C. to visit NGB and she was sure I was dead. Obviously they were using an old map of the Pentagon because before the remodel, that was where National Guard Bureau Headquarters was located. NGB was not to move back to the Pentagon until all the renovations had been completed. I calmed my parents and brother down and assured them I was fine and would be home as soon as I could and that I loved them. (Funny how often we forget to tell that to people we love.)
Col. Larry Ciancio called next and said pack our bags but don't check out yet, we are going to try to get out of here and back home. Brig. Gen. Crowder had called and he was continuing to monitor the situation at NGB headquarters.
All the Colorado 14 made it back to the hotel safe and sound but Lt. Col. Schoenrock was pretty shook up because had actually been in the Pentagon when it was hit.
Later, Col. Ciancio called back and said that no planes could fly so we would stay the night and try to get out the next day.
After that, it was hours of watching the news channels and the horror that the terrorists had thrust upon us. Funny, I don't remember eating anything for lunch or dinner. I probably did but all I remember is watching the TV and wondering if any more planes were still out there with terrorists on them.
As the TV announced that the president was coming back to D.C. now that it was safe, I watched the Marine helicopter bringing him back fly by the hotel.
That evening the Colorado 14 went up to Col. Ciancio's room because he had the best view of the Pentagon. It was still burning, 12 hours later.
Some soldiers had hung a giant Garrison Flag from the roof of the Pentagon. We watched the Pentagon continue to burn and listened to President Bush on TV. “911 we will respond.” I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it.
There were lights on in the rest of the Pentagon that was not burning. We knew there were people inside planning what our country's next move would be. Much like the Japanese learned in World War II after Pearl Harbor, the terrorist had "awakened a sleeping giant."
I awoke the next morning with a raw throat because the hotel's air conditioning system was sucking in the smoke from the Pentagon. We got confirmation later that morning that we would be allowed to fly home because we had the commander of the Colorado Army National Guard with us. (Bless you Brig. Gen. Crowder for being there.)
When we boarded the C-26 to go home, we watched the ground crew salute us as we took off. We were alone in the skies over America.
When the plane touched down at Buckley Air Force Base, I remember kissing the ground because I was so happy to be home.
The weeks that followed were hectic. We quickly deployed one of the Special Forces companies.
We awoke to an entirely new world on 9-12-2001. Not a world that is easy to be in. I hate all the security to get on a plane now but know it is necessary to prevent another terrorist act with planes.
My daughter is 21-years-old now and has grown up in a world where some liberties have been curtailed because of the terrorists. Ten years of war has taken its toll financially and mentally on this country. It is not the future I had imagined for my daughter, yet it is still a safe future thanks to the men and women who continue to serve our country. They fight for the freedoms that we enjoy and I salute them all and thank them for their service.
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