The faces of the doomed passengers on American Airlines flight 77 moments before their hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon is an image Kim Plyler will never forget.
Plyler, assistant director of university communications, recounted her story at a brown bag lunch sponsored by the Global Union in the University Center on Thursday, the second anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. She is one of just six people who reported seeing the plane crash into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where she was working at the time.
Standing in the parking lot, six months pregnant, just 150 feet away from the building, she heard a loud snapping noise that echoed throughout the area. The airplane hit the helicopter pad on the ground and bounced up into the Pentagon as the passengers looked out for the last time and a cloud of black smoke ensued.
"It was like a slow motion, rewound tape. It didn’t make sense," she says.
The next thing she remembers is being in the basement of her Fairfax, Va. home. What she knows now of how she got out of the parking lot and back home has been pieced together from people she saw along the way and from the security guard who was with her when the plane crashed.
"I don’t remember getting out," she says "The guard said it must have been an angel of God who helped me out that day."
Two months later, she gave birth to her son, Jeremiah.
It was not until six months later, listening to a live band sing a touching song concerning death, that Plyler actually realized the impact of her experience.
"I thought, what was so important that I wasn’t in the Pentagon? Why am I here?," she says. "I just knew that it was my time to help others."
Shortly after, Plyler moved back to her hometown of Bethlehem and began working at New Bethany Ministries. Now as assistant director of university communications, Plyler helps publicize the important work that researchers are doing at Lehigh. Being able to help others through her position is a rewarding experience.
"The wealth and change I experienced was astronomical," she says.
The hope of a new generation
The power of her story left the predominantly student audience of about 50 moved and even brought some to tears.
Chris Janneck, president of the Global Union, gained a lot from the presentation.
"The important things you learn in college aren’t in the classroom," Janneck says. "I am happier for being here."
Bill Hunter, director of international students and scholars, asked Plyler to tell her story. "I appreciate her courage and willingness to share," Hunter says. "Her story makes it very real."
Plyler says she wanted the focus of her talk to be on making a difference.
"I want the reaction to the events to be love-based, not fear-based. If we let the fear grab us, the terrorists will win," she says.
Plyler’s presentation ended with a picture of herself and her 21–month- old son, Jeremiah, projected onto a screen with the words, "The hope of a new generation."
Nicholas Zoller, a graduate student in the math department, was glad she told her story.
"The victims are real people," he says. "We must continue to share stories so future generations do not forget those who had to live through this."
Plyler hopes that in light of the events of 9-11, people will continue to help each other and make sure the memory of the passengers she saw that morning remains with us so they did not die in vain.
"This is a story of recovery and not living in fear," she says. "This is the story that needs to be passed on."
Posted on Thursday, September 11, 2003