MONROE – Union County native Carmen Hill said life is easier when you can avoid events that have had a horrific impact on your life. It’s why she doesn’t like talking about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hill shared her experience working at the Pentagon that day during Monroe and Union County’s Patriot Day Ceremony on Sept. 11 at Dowd Center Theater. The event was closed to the public but streamed online.
“Usually on this day. I avoid all news coverage and all social media because I don’t want to relive a single moment of what happened this day,” she said. “But it was the people here in my hometown who rushed over to my parents' house that day to offer them support in those gut-wrenching moments before they knew that I was OK. And for that, I am ever so grateful and clearly moved to tears.”
Hill worked as a photojournalist serving the Army’s senior leadership.
The morning of the attack, she remembers how safe she felt driving to the Pentagon having been in Bosnia just a couple days prior. She had planned to spend the morning processing film from her trip in the photo lab.
After the planes collided with the World Trade Center, she made a phone call to her husband.
“I know I’m being a worrywart but just in case something happens, I want to tell you that I love you,” she told him.
After hanging up the phone, she felt the building tremble with three booms as a plane went through three rings of the Pentagon walls at 9:37 a.m.
“Had I not made that phone call when I did, I would have been in the flight path of that plane,” she said.
Hill remembers the calm, methodical nature of her coworkers as they evacuated the building. Before she left, she grabbed her camera and took several photos of the evacuation. Her photos were published in publications across the world.
She said it was difficult to know what was going on that day. Around 11:30 a.m. staff had been warned of another plane making its way to the Pentagon. She was told to run away from the building. She heard the sound of an incoming aircraft.
She held her breath and thought, “I am about to die.’”
Turns out the plane was an Air Force fighter jet providing air cover following reports of additional hijacked planes, she said.
“It has definitely given me courage through the years,” she said. “When I faced tough situations. I thought if I can survive 9-11, then I can get through this.”