Col. Yori Escalante, chief of staff for Marine Corps Logistics Command, gives remarks at a 9/11 observance held on Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany on Wednesday. Escalante was working at The Pentagon the day of the attacks. (Jennifer Parks).
MCLB-ALBANY — Sept. 11, 2001, was a day that started off pretty much like any other day, but would later end up being a day Americans will never forget.
Col. Yori Escalante, chief of staff at Marine Corps Logistics Command, was a major working in Headquarters Marine Corps at The Pentagon at the time of the attacks.
Escalante was in Albany Wednesday to speak as Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany conducted an observance ceremony to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that resulted in loss of life in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
After the American flag at Schmid Field had been placed at half staff, the ceremony was opened by Col. Don Davis, commanding officer of MCLB-Albany.
“It is a great day to recognize and remember what happened 12 years ago,” said Davis. “It is with a heavy heart that we are here. We won’t forget. We will do this every year.”
“It was a beautiful sunny day just like today, except without the gnats, in Washington, D.C.,” Escalante recalled. “It was a sunny day, but that was about to change.”
The weekend prior, his office had moved into a section of The Pentagon that had just been renovated. The move had actually taken place a few days early, from the section of the building that American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into shortly after 9:30 a.m. the day of the attacks.
Escalante said he first heard of the attacks on the World Trade Center at a 9 a.m. bi-weekly meeting during their “Budget Wars.”
“At around 9:15-9:20, two majors blasted into the conference room, which was very unusual with a three-star general in the room who was heading the meeting, and said that planes had hit the World Trade Center,” the colonel said.” … We knew the first logical place after that would be Washington, D.C.”
A few minutes later, Escalante heard a huge explosion and the building shook.
“The Pentagon is a huge building,” he said. “It takes a lot to shake The Pentagon.
“We knew in our hearts what had happened. We were the next target.”
Immediately afterward, the staff members shut off their computers and evacuated — but there was one task Escalante made sure to do first.
“On my desk, I saw my keys and my cell phone. I grabbed my cell phone and called my wife.”
When he made it out of the building, there was security personnel out in armor with guns who were telling them to head toward Crystal City. Va., located just south of The Pentagon. As he moved away from the building, Escalante said he got a clearer view of the destruction.
“It (the building) was on fire and smoking, and no one knew what took place as far as damage was concerned,” he said.
It would be a week, he said, before the building would stop smoldering.
Not long after he had gotten out, Escalante heard more about the fate of the Twin Towers.
“I saw Tower 1 come down,” he said. “I had heard about Tower 2 coming down, but I couldn’t believe it. When I saw Tower 1 come down like a stack of cards (it was unbelievable). I knew something had to be done.”
By 9 p.m., he was able to make it home — the last in his neighborhood working in that building to do so. Upon his return, he received a warm welcome.
“Every teenager in the neighborhood told me how much they wanted to fight, or that they couldn’t enlist,” Escalante said.
One positive thing to come out of this was that the nation got a look at who its real heroes were, from the first responders who rushed into harm’s way that day to the retired service members who decided to come back.
“It does not matter which uniform you wear, you are a hero,” Escalante said.” … (The events of Sept. 11) shaped my outlook, my future, the future of my family and the future of many others.”