From Pentagon Survivor to Midshipman
POSTED ON: Saturday, September 11, 2021 9:15 AM by MC3 Thomas Bonaparte
Many Americans watched in horror as hijackers deliberately crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, followed by a second plane 17 minutes later. Then, at 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon where 4-month-old Heather Born and her nearly 3-year-old sister Hanna were attending daycare. Today, Hanna is an Air Force second lieutenant, and Heather a second class (junior) midshipman attending the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I was too young to have any memories of 9/11,” said Heather. “Over the years, my parents and sister have shared pictures and stories of that day, of the brave Service men and women who helped evacuate the children in the Pentagon Day Care Center to safety.”
Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Timothy Born, Heather’s father, was working in his office in Old Town Alexandria, when he heard of the attack on the Pentagon. Although only five miles south of the Pentagon, it took him nearly 90 minutes to arrive at the day care center since the Washington D.C. metro area was in total gridlock. Upon reaching the day care center, security guards advised him that the children had already been evacuated. After 20 minutes of searching, Tim found the day care center had been relocated about a half-mile north of the Pentagon.
As he described it, the contrast could not have been more striking. Behind him was the Pentagon, enveloped in a cloud of smoke and ash, and countless emergency response vehicles traversing the grounds or flying overhead. Directly ahead of him was the relocated day care center, serenely situated in a grassy area under a grove of trees bordering the Pentagon Lagoon which leads to the Potomac River.
For Tim, what made the scene especially poignant was finding infants sound asleep in cribs (two or three per crib) arranged in a ring. Within the center of the ring were the toddlers and preschoolers being comforted by the day care workers. Surrounding the perimeter were security personnel to ensure their safety and preclude any unauthorized access and egress.
Tim spotted Heather immediately, sound asleep in her crib with several other infants. Shortly thereafter, he sighted Hanna. Upon seeing Tim, her eyes lit up and she shouted, “Daddy!”
“That is a moment in time I will never forget,” he said.
After retrieving his daughters, given all the uncertainty at the time and since their home was only three miles from the Pentagon, Tim took them to a co-worker’s house about 10 miles away to spend the night.
“My most vivid memory from 9/11 is the initial confusion I felt as we began to evacuate the day care center,” said Hanna. “I had been playing and dancing with other kids and couldn’t figure out why we were being led out of the classroom. At first, I thought we were going outside to continue the dance class; however, as we exited the building I grew more aware of my surroundings. I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smell of everything going on outside – sensory overload, if you will.”
“Now,” Hanna continued, “I don’t spend much time thinking about my specific memories from 9/11. Rather, Heather and I have tried to focus on the lessons learned and inspiration drawn in the years since as we’ve grown older and developed a better understanding for the significance of that day - and a deeper appreciation for the unsung heroes at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, Flight 93 and elsewhere across America who stepped up during a time of national crises in ways beyond what they ever could have ever imagined upon waking up that morning.”
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Dana Born, Heather’s mother, was then a lieutenant colonel serving as a squadron commander at Bolling Air Force Base on 9/11. From her fourth-floor office window, she had a birds’ eye view across the river and witnessed the ever-growing smoke plume and flames emanating from the Pentagon. Immediately following the attack, she entered the underground command center and didn’t learn the fate of her daughters until nine hours later.
“Many of the Airmen that I was privileged to serve alongside that day answered our nation’s call,” she recounted. “They went well beyond what we had trained for and expected from them, and some entering into harm’s way to do their duty.”
Heather feels this year’s September 11th remembrance will be especially moving, falling on the 20th anniversary of the terrorists’ attacks, and made even more heartrending with the recent loss of the brave Service members in Afghanistan who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The 9/11 attack struck close to home and learning more about it as I grew older greatly influenced my decision to join the military,” said Heather. “I have been inspired by stories of the selfless service and sacrifice of the Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen fighting the global war on terrorism. I realized that military service will provide a life filled with purpose and allow me to be part of something greater than oneself.”
Three days following the attack, Tim returned to the Pentagon to thank the day care center director for all she and her team did to safely evacuate the children. He also had a question for her on something that had been puzzling him for the past three days.
“How did she manage to evacuate so many children, so far and so fast?” said Tim, when he considered that so many of the day care workers were either elderly or not in the best of health.
It was then that the director revealed that moments after the Pentagon was hit, she heard a loud cracking on the day care center’s glass doors. Upon running to the entrance, she saw a sea of uniforms. When opening the door, she faced a Marine who asked, “How can we help?”
After telling him they needed assistance getting the children to safety, the Service members rushed in and helped the day care workers empty the day care facility, room by room. Infants were placed in heavy metal cribs (two or three per crib) manned at each end and then carried the half-mile across the parking lot to the water’s edge. Other Service members handheld the preschoolers and/or carried the toddlers with the day care workers alongside. Once by the water’s edge, the perimeter of cribs was set. Upon arrival of the security personnel, the Service members disappeared as quickly as they arrived. The director stated that she never knew who they were or where they came from.
Tim relates that he and his wife (and every other parent with children in the Pentagon Day Care Center) “remain eternally grateful for the Service members’ courage and selfless act that morning while protecting the most innocent and defenseless among us. Their courage, sense of duty and performance during a time of crisis once again defined the essence of who we are as members of the United States military.”
The entire family will meet for the Navy vs. Air Force football game on September 11th at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.
“Of course, I’m going to make my sister and mom sit on the Navy side,” said Heather mischievously. “They are coming to my school. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Hanna, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, had a few choice words for Heather’s bravado.
“It doesn’t matter where I sit,” said Hanna with a chuckle. “Obviously the Air Force will win. Falcons all the way! We don’t need home field advantage!”
The Naval Academy has won eight of the last nine Navy-Air Force football games played in Maryland.
The game, which was originally scheduled to be played Oct. 2, 2021, was moved to Sept. 11, 2021, to recognize the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. This marks the earliest the two teams have faced each other in a football season.
As the undergraduate college of our country’s naval service, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character and compassion in the United States Navy and Marine Corps.