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Remembering 9/11

The silhouette of a man standing in front of the Pentagon with a large American flag unfurled down the side of the building.

First responders guide a flag unfurling over the side of the Pentagon before sunrise on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon, Sept. 11, 2021. The flag unfurling was a practice run for the official sunrise service.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. --

On Sept. 11, 2001, holding her 8-month-old daughter, Master Sgt. Anita Barnes and her husband stood frozen as they watched the first plane hit the World Trade Center North Tower on television.

Both were stunned.

They watched as the second plane hit the World Trade Center South Tower.

Silence.

Barnes, an Air Force Reserve Citizen Airman assigned to the 446th Services Sustainment section, then turned to her husband and said, “Look, if anything happens to the Pentagon, you know I’ll receive a call and be gone.”

Earlier that month, the Air Force Reserve’s 446th mortuary affairs team began its three-month, on-call rotation to support any incident that required Air Force mortuary affairs assistance.

She left her husband glued to the television and got dressed for work.

As Barnes was leaving, her husband turned to her and said, “A plane hit the Pentagon.”

At 9:37 a.m., a plane crashed into the Pentagon.

Barnes received the call from her unit leadership approximately 90 minutes later.

Barnes had to report to her unit at 7:30 a.m., the next day. After the call, she went home and packed her bags.  

In response to the attacks, more than 11,000 Reservists were recalled to active duty. Barnes was among those activated.

 She reported to her unit at McChord Air Force Base on Sept. 12, 2001.

“We all met, there was like 18 of us, and we went in this break room where our senior (master sergeant) kind of broke down what’s going to happen,” Barnes recalls. “He said when we get approval from the Pentagon and the White House to start the plane and leave, we will let you know.”

They did not receive approval that day. So, Barnes and the team returned to the unit the next day. They received approval to takeoff. Barnes boarded the bus and headed to the flight line.

When she got to the aircraft, she said to herself, “I’m going to make a difference. I am going to do my little part and return the remains to their families.”

They landed in Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, on Sept. 13, 2001.

On Sept. 14, 2001, Barnes began processing the remains of people who died in the Pentagon.

“We started taking care of them,” Barnes said.  

Barnes’ role was to escort the remains to different sections for identification.

“We assisted with cleaning, embalming, photographing and autopsy,” Barnes said. “I learned how to do a baseball stitch.”

But, the most meaningful part for her was the dress and wrap portion.

“It was my favorite spot to be, because I was able to make sure they looked amazing prior to sending them home,” Barnes said. “Either they had on a uniform or the clothes they (the family) wanted.”

Some remains were not viewable. But that didn’t stop Barnes. We wrapped them professionally and put them into the casket, she said.

“That part satisfied my soul,” Barnes. “Because after all of the devastation that occurred, I was at least able to get individuals home to their family.”

The hardest time for Barnes was dressing and wrapping four kids who were on Flight 77.

“I was able to do something in a time of crisis,” Barnes said. “There was 184 souls that I was able to get back to their families.”

Sept. 11, 2001, is now known as Patriot Day. It is recognized by U.S. as a National Day of Service and Remembrance and has been observed every year.