A piece of cloth found on the fourth floor of the Pentagon Sept. 13 brought strength to a GW graduate student rescue worker as he was losing hope.
Eric Jones was at the Pentagon for three straight days after the September 11 attacks, when he and three others found an intact Marine Corps flag amidst debris near the area where the building collapsed.
“It was such a sense of pride that the flag had survived (the attack),” he said. “(Flags) are a symbol of everything our country stands for.”
Jones, who received the Department of Defense Medal of Valor in July, began his patriotic work by chance while driving to class on the morning of Sept. 11 last year.
A trained paramedic with a degree in Emergency Health
Services and volunteer firefighter, Jones pulled into the Pentagon’s parking lot when he saw smoke billowing from the building.
Jones, who is working toward a graduate degree in public health, said he spent the first 30 minutes he was there pulling people out of the building.
A female survivor made a profound impact on Jones and a fellow rescue worker, Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Braman, Jones said.
“She was so badly burned, the only thing she could do was clap her hands,” the Oakland, Calif. native said. “When she was in the hospital recovering, she read the newspaper (and saw a photo of us rescuing her) and recognized his faceand my face.”
Jones said he was assigned to mortuary duty at the site, locating and putting bodies in bags.
“It was the worst experience I’ve ever had to deal with.”
During his four days and three nights at the Pentagon, Jones worked endlessly and slept little.
But he said he only did what “needed to be done.”
“Nobody wanted to leave their fallen comrades behind,” Jones said.
He said he left the Pentagon Sept. 14, but “couldn’t sleep” because “everything was just too vivid.”
Jones said he immediately responded when he got a call from his local fire department to help with rescue efforts at ground zero.
Jones described the scene in New York City as “vast and devastated,” while the Pentagon was “more close up and in your face” because he saw individuals’ personal belongings while looking for victims among the ruins.
He also said the World Trade Center was “like a family-type support group.”
“When you’re working in the bucket brigades as one of 100 or 200 rescue workers, and you’re passing a bucket down a chain, hand in hand with so many people, it’s a collective support group,” he said.
After about nine months, Jones received the Medal of Valor, the highest honor the country awards to civilians. Steve DeChiro, 43, who worked at the Pentagon with Jones, also received the medal during a ceremony July 15.
Jones’ father, retired Air Force Colonel Conway B. Jones Jr., said he was “very proud” of his son.
“I think the country can be proud,” he said.
But Eric Jones said he and De Chiro were just two people selected to represent the entire rescue effort.
“I wish more than anything that I hadn’t seen the things I’ve seen and experienced,” he said.
Three weeks ago, when Jones re-visited ground zero, he witnessed a crowd of tourists armed with cameras snapping shots of the country’s newest “attraction.”
He said he spent a “surreal” hour standing at the bottom of the “pit,” noticing how “people have forgotten that they’re visiting a mass grave site.”
Jones said victims’ family members should be involved in the rebuilding.
“I definitely think they should rebuild, and I’d like to see them build the towers but this time make them 100 feet taller,” Jones said. “I think it’d be almost defeat and letting them win if we don’t build bigger and better.”