There are moments in history that remain vivid in our memory. People remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and – September 11, 2001.
That date, in particular, is still very vivid in former Pocahontas County Sheriff David Jonese’s mind.
Jonese was an active Marine Lieutenant Colonel stationed at the Pentagon in the Department of Aviation – a job he began in June of 2000.
The Pentagon offices are sectioned off in “rings,” and Jonese’s office was located in C Ring, but in September 2001, the Pentagon was undergoing remodeling, so his office was moved to a metal building next door.
That Tuesday morning began like all other days for Jonese.
“It was a beautiful day; absolutely beautiful,” he said. “So, Tuesday morning when we showed up for work, I was doing my normal routine. I didn’t have windows, didn’t have any of that stuff because of the building we were in. It was probably a little after nine or something when Cheryl called me.
“She said, ‘do you know what’s going on,’” he continued. “She said, ‘a plane just hit the World Trade Center’ and while I’m talking to her, she said, ‘Oh God, the other one just got hit.”
Jonese’s wife was the first to tell him about the attack, and she was worried the Pentagon would also be a target.
“I said, ‘this is the hub of military strength for America, no one’s going to mess with this,’” Jonese recalled. “And about the time I said that, the building – the entire Pentagon – shook. The whole thing shook. The lights went out. The phone went dead. There was debris everywhere.
“I was the only one that knew what was going on, so I ran out the door and just as I stepped out, I saw this huge orange fireball run up the side of the building,” he continued. “Everybody was trying to get everyone accounted for. The Pentagon police had come up and taken over the scene – or were trying to take over the scene.”
As everyone was trying to evacuate the building, Jonese said the Pentagon police were trying to get them to go back inside. It was confusing at first, but he realized the police were worried another plane might be on its way.
“When we looked up, there was a large aircraft coming up the river toward the Pentagon, really low,” he said. “They thought it was a second plane coming for the building. It was a military C130 that saw something happening and was coming up, I guess, to see what was really taking place.
“After that, we evacuated the building,”Jonese said. “Fire departments were rolling in from everywhere.”
As Jonese was trying to gain his bearings and following the crowd to safety in Crystal City, across the street from the Pentagon, Cheryl was back in Green Bank wondering what was happening. Her call got cut off after the impact and she could not get in touch with Jonese, who left his phone, wallet and keys in his office.
“She was on the phone when I told her they won’t hit,” Jonese said. “That’s when it went dead. That’s all she heard. It was eleven hours – there was no phone service coming out of D.C., every line was clogged up and blocked. I spent eleven hours trying to find a way here and there.”
Fortunately, Jonese’s brother, Mark, was stationed at Quantico at the time and was able to pick him up.
“When I got to Mark’s, that was the first time Cheryl and Mom and Dad found out anything about my status,” he said. “Up to that point, they had no idea. I stayed with Mark and Jan, and then they finally contacted us and told us to go home for a few days.”
What Jonese didn’t know was that during the 11 hours he was trying to find safety and connect with his family, Cheryl and his parents were getting calls and visits from concerned community members who knew he was stationed at the Pentagon.
“I will tell you that they had all kinds of people coming to both Mom’s house and down to Cheryl on the farm, and calling them, trying to find out what my status was,” he said. “Which surprised me. It really surprised me. I didn’t realize there were that many people who would be concerned.
“You just don’t expect that,” he continued. “I’d been gone thirty years. So you don’t pay attention to those little things. You might wave at someone, but you never think about – until something happens – how much a small community comes together and is there to support you. That was probably the biggest eye opener for me coming back after being gone so long.”
One individual in particular, Dunmore resident Gray Beverage, stuck out in Jonese’s mind. Beverage, who was a truck driver at the time, called Cheryl and said he would go get Jonese and bring him home.
“That was really pretty impressive,” Jonese said.
A week after the attack, Jonese returned to work. Half of the staff was sent to a facility in Virginia and the other half to Pennsylvania.
Despite being active military, Jonese was not deployed to Afghanistan after the attack. Instead, he stayed stateside and organized the troops who were deployed.
“We were working in secret compartment areas, getting information, directives from the Secretary of Defense and relaying it out to the units that he was tasking,” he said. “Did I think I was going to get sent? No, not right away because we were already in a headquarters position doing what we were doing.”
Jonese had been deployed overseas in the past, but he said nothing he experienced compared to the September 11 attack.
“That was by far the largest thing I’ve witnessed as far as an attack on the United States,” he said. “I never thought they would ever come for the Pentagon. I never did. I never thought it would be possible, but they proved us wrong.”
Looking back at the events of 20 years ago, Jonese hangs on to the overwhelming support and patriotism he witnessed and experienced first hand. Whether it was the actions of his fellow Marines or civilians, it reminded him that we truly are a nation that stands together.
“There were some amazing things that happened that day,” he said. “I have a picture that shows the outside wall – it shows the flag still standing after the outside wall collapsed. That was our Generals’ offices. They were in the gym that morning when the plane hit, but their secretaries were there.
“Those secretaries were pinned against the wall, under the desks,” he continued. “A bunch of young Marines – nineteen- twenty-year-old Marines – crawled through the mud and dark and smoke and rescued all of them. It was an amazing thing, and I just have to appreciate every day what those guys did.”
Driving to work each day, Jonese couldn’t help but notice all the American flags planted in front yards and alongside the road. He said people would even stop and offer rides to service members going to or from the Pentagon.
“It was America at its finest again,” he said.
“I’ll tell you what really tugged on the heart strings,” Jonese added. “Seeing these volunteers come in – these construction guys – and making the statement, ‘We’re going to have this back up and running full speed in a year.’ A lot of them were just volunteers. And to watch them come in and clean that up and rebuild; knowing what they were doing. The patriotism they were showing on their own time and with their own money. Every day that you’d go to work, you’d see the flags and you’d watch those guys, it would really touch you.”
Jonese remained at the Pentagon until 2004 when he retired and came back to Pocahontas County.
Although he had some harrowing experiences during his service in the Marines, Jonese said he never once thought about telling his son, Lakota, not to follow in his footsteps.
“Like every other parent, I would hate for anything negative to happen, but as long as he’s doing it for himself and for his country, then you’ve got to be supportive of it,” he said. “All I can say is, I’m a hundred percent behind him. I’m very proud of him.”
Jonese is second generation military, following in the footsteps of his father, Joe, who served in the U.S. Army for 21 years.
“My dad fought in two wars,” he said. “He never wanted me to go into combat or anything like that. He loved that we went in, but he also said, ‘I don’t want you to do any of those things, but if you have to, you have to.’ He told me, anyone that had ever been there never wants anyone else to have to go.
“I understand that now, looking at Lakota and hoping that he doesn’t have to [go to combat], but if someone won’t stand up, then we have nothing left,” he added.
Jonese and his brother, Mark, both joined the Marines and now each has a son – Lakota and Derek – in the Marines.
“Lakota wanted to be in the Marines since he was probably four or five,” Jonese said. “That’s been his only dream. I think a lot of it is because they grow up seeing a certain pride in the family. I think it’s a lot more prevalent than the standard person working a job in the civilian community. I think that’s why a lot of families have generations of military.”