9/11 survivor remembers Pentagon attack

Veterans Voices

As Veterans Day draws near, a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Army and Special Forces has decided to share his life’s story of service and how it landed him in the middle of an event that has and continues to shape the 21st century.

Lieutenant Colonel Dan Adelstein was born in 1954, and grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota.

He recalls having an interest in the military going back to his childhood.

“I had this epiphany that I didn’t want to just write about military history,” said Adelstein. “I wanted to be part of military history, specifically that part that has to do with the defense of the United States.”

His passion drove him to apply for America’s most elite military academy, West Point.

Adelstein was part of a small group of Jewish cadets at the academy.

“I went to West Point, and as I’ve said, I experienced no anti-Semitism there,” said Adelstein. “When I was serving in the army, most of the time I was completely surrounded by non-Jews and I don’t recall any overt anti-Semitism there, either. So the absence of anti-Semitism has been really a theme in my life. I am probably a good test case of this.”

In 1977, Adelstein left West Point and began his military career.

“It was a day of great pride, and also a day of great relief to have made it through all that and to be out of there,” said Adelstein. “I enjoyed my last two years quite a bit however I was pretty ready to graduate by the end of four years.”

Adelstein’s talents got him assigned to Special Forces units, including the rangers and paratroopers, in which he learned the art of leading from the front.

“Regarding the most important ways to take care of the welfare of the soldiers in your command, there was a saying that we were taught at West Point, that if you take care of your soldiers, your soldiers will take care of you and your mission,” Adelstein said. “I think there is a lot of truth to that.”

In 20 years of service, Adelstein had never seen combat and as the sun rose over his office in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, he had no reason to believe that day would be any different.

“At the moment of the attack, I was in a conference room with some representatives from other parts of the army staff,” he said.

As it turns out, that meeting saved his life.

“So my office where I normally work was very heavily damaged, but the conference room that I was in at that point was not affected,” he said.

Adelstein and several others moved towards an exit, working their way through hallways that were quickly filling with confusion.

“We were not aware that this had been another hijacked plane that had hit the building,” he said. “In fact, the sense I had was that a bomb had gone off.”

But the truth became clear once his group had escaped the burning building.

“We could see flames coming from the side of the building that the aircraft had hit, not the side that we were exiting from,” said Adelstein. “One was immediately aware of the enormity of the situation, and that things had really changed for our country.”

Within days, Adelstein and millions of other Americans were ready to take the offensive.

“I am tremendously proud of those special forces A-teams, those ODA’s, we called them, aid attachments that went to Afghanistan in October,” Adelstein said. “They laid the foundation for our victory in Afghanistan.”

Ten years later, his contributions to the Special Forces community would yield the ultimate reward, when a group of covert navy seals killed the man behind 9/11.

“It gave me a lot of pride in the men and women in our intelligence community and our special operations community that made that happen,” Adelstein said.

Lieutenant Colonel Adelstein has since retired from the military, but continues to work as a political military consultant on Capitol Hill.

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