Virginia Firefighters Recall Moment in History at Pentagon

The firefighters say they just happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Virginia firefighters sent to the Pentagon roof to hit hotspots on Sept. 12, 2001, wound up smack in the middle of a historic moment.

On Monday, Fairfax County and Alexandria firefighters who helped unfurl the stars and stripes returned to the roof for a ceremony. This time they only snapped a salute.

About their brief task five years ago, firefighters say it was simply being at the right place at the right time -- nothing more.

After climbing Fairfax County Ladder 38 to the Pentagon roof that sunny afternoon, Army officers turned to the firefighters for assistance in hanging the 20x38 foot garrison flag.

"There was a brief discussion about the placement of flag, making sure it was correct, before we dropped it. We all knew it was a high profile moment. But none of us knew just how big it was," said Fairfax County Master Technician Karl Sollberg.

Photographs of the firefighters and military standing atop the flag-draped Pentagon were transmitted worldwide.

Sollberg said Monday's ceremony was a memorable one for the firefighters and their families. "We really couldn't hear anything from the roof. But, it was an honor for us to be there."

Those involved in the flag detail stood near the roof's edge, and saluted during "God Bless America."

But, the flag draped on the Pentagon on Monday was not the one they unfurled the day after the attack. That one was retired last week by the Old Guard in a ceremony at the National Museum of American History where it has been on display.

It took a half hour for soldiers to fold the huge flag which is now being cleaned and stored by the Army Center for Military History. It may go back on display when the new museum opens in a few years, according to Army officials.

Alexandria Firefighter Scott Morgan said he was proud to have been part of effort. "It really didn't hit me until all these people called me, saying they had seen me on the roof of the Pentagon. I thought people may have been taking pictures…"

They were. A 2x3 foot official White House photo is on display in his basement family room. "To think we're part of history...it's still hard to describe. What we did was no big deal, really."

Alexandria Capt. Joe Warner said he will never forget. "It's still overwhelming…We were in the midst of something major. We knew there were dignitaries down below, and possibly, President Bush."

Warner said it was an honor, and believes the firefighters stood proud for their colleagues.

The moment is even more special now because he has met and become friends with people who lost loved ones in the Pentagon attack. "They've added a whole new perspective…"

Alexandria Firefighter Joe Morabito, like others across the nation, was anxious to go to work. Within hours of getting a cast off his broken foot, he helped unfurl the flag.

"The whole thing was surreal. I think it took months for it to soak in…I'm just thankful I got back to work that day, and was able to be up there. We also remember the 343 brothers in New York…"

Morabito said after Monday's ceremony, he and the others met dignitaries, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. They received commemorative coins, and signed two large photographs. They weren't told where the poster-sized renditions are going.

"Even though we couldn't hear what was going on, it was a nice event. Our families enjoyed being part of it too."

Other Fairfax County firefighters involved in the flag draping effort were Capt. Dave Lange, Paramedic Lt. James Morris, Firefighter Randall Schwartz, Technician Robert Clarke Jr, Firefighter David Kannard and Master Technician Dave Gaber.

Morgan said they'll all have something to share with their grandchildren some day. "We just happened to be there…"

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