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Pentagon survivor shares his 9/11 story

Retired U.S. Army officer, Ryan Yantis was present for duty in the Pentagon during the 9/11 attack and decorated for his actions that day.  He shared his story Thursday at a forum by the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce. (Carolyn Rusin/Tribune)

Retired U.S. Army officer, Ryan Yantis was present for duty in the Pentagon during the 9/11 attack and decorated for his actions that day. He shared his story Thursday at a forum by the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce. (Carolyn Rusin/Tribune)

Moments after a plane crashed into the Pentagon 10 years ago, then-Army Lt. Col. Ryan Yantis evacuated the building along with everyone else, but then decided there were people still inside that needed his help.

“We kept running into the building helping people, that’s what we had too do,” Yantis said of himself and others who aided the injured inside the building.

On Thursday, Yantis, who now lives in the Crystal Lake area, recalled that morning in 2001 as he spoke to a crowd of about 40 during a forum held by the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce at The Garlands of Barrington.

“I remember people running to and from the building. It seemed like the entire side of the building was on fire,” said Yantis, who recalled seeing a badly burned woman. “There was a lot of debris from the airplane.”

Minutes before, he and a co-worker had been standing in the Pentagon near the spot where the American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building, killing 184 people, 59 of them passengers.

The two had left that area of the building to attend a meeting to discuss what occurred shortly before — the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

But before the meeting could start, they were told by a sergeant to evacuate due to an explosion, Yantis recalled. On his way out of the building, Yantis went back to his office where 20 to 30 people should have been working, but the area had already been evacuated. He was working in the Pentagon as a spokesman for the Army at the time.

“There was debris on desks. Smoke was coming from the ceiling,” said Yantis, adding that on his way out, “I didn’t see panic. I didn’t see chaos, just people evacuating.”

About 20,000 people worked in the five-floor Pentagon at the time the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, he said. There were 106 people seriously injured that day, while hundreds of others were wounded. The youngest death was that of a three-year-old child, while the oldest, 71-years-old, Yantis said.

“One of the things I am most proud of is the Pentagon never closed of stopped working,” he said.

Another was the formation of Camp Unity the following day with “citizens stepping forward and businesses stepping forward,” along with the Red Cross and other organizations, to bring aid, delivering truck loads of supplies.

“It was huge support,” said Yantis, noting there was little media coverage on the camp.

But, he said the unity of the nation could have lasted longer if bi-partisan bickering or politics didn’t get in the way.

In Barrington, he praised organizers of the We Do Care festival that formed in response to an anti-war protest. The festival this year has been canceled, apparently due to lack of donations to help fund it.

“That was a great thing. It helped to move (the country) forward in a non-partisan way,” Yantis said. “The most important thing you can do is remember, honor and celebrate. Support our military.”

Americans have to remember 9/11, he said after the forum.

“Part of the challenge we face is not realizing the challenge,” Yantis said. “If we don’t acknowledge terrorists as terrorists, we robbed ourselves of the reality we face.”

Yantis served in the Army from 1993-2006, before retiring. Today, he runs the public relations and crisis mitigation firm Yantis Consulting in Crystal Lake.

He also spoke at a Sept. 11 event at the Crystal Lake Library on Wednesday.

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