Col. Jack Hook paused and prayed before he entered the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
It was nearly an hour before the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. Hook had arrived at the Pentagon for two meetings to discuss data radio requirements for the Army.
“I thanked God for what a beautiful day it was,” Hook said. “The sky was blue and there wasn’t the humidity that there was in Georgia. I was just thinking this was a really glorious day.”
He was early that morning and went ahead to the room where the first meeting would take place at 9 a.m. When people finally began streaming in, the country was already aware of the first plane crash into one twin tower.
“A lot of us felt like we’d like to see what this was and what was going on, but we felt like the things we were going to be talking about were pretty important so we kicked off our meeting,” Hook recalled.
About 30 minutes later, the room began to shake, but in a windowless room, the occupants were clueless to its cause.
As a precaution, the group decided to send someone out to check out the sound that “seemed like a bomb.”
Less than a minute later, they were evacuating.
“At the time it just seemed surreal. It still appeared as though a bomb had gone off, but as we made our way out of the building and into the parking area you could see this hole in the wall, burning and smoke,” Hook said of the crash site about 150 yards from where he had just been sitting.
“We didn’t have any realization that a plane had crashed into the building. That plane was disintegrated. There were no remnants of a plane that you could see.”
American Airlines Flight 77 had penetrated three of the five rings of the Pentagon and crashed into a newly renovated area of the building, Hook said. Many of the offices were still vacant. Four years prior, Hook’s office had occupied a space in the impact zone.
“There’s no place that plane could have hit in the Pentagon that would have caused fewer casualties,” he said.
Fifty-nine passengers lost their lives in the plane and another 184 died on the ground.
“As I went into that meeting, in my mind, at that moment what we were about to discuss was important and critical to the nation’s defense,” he said. “Thirty minutes later, the building is on fire, we’re evacuating and what’s really important came immediately to the forefront of my mind – my faith and family.”
Hook returned to his rental car to return to Fort Gordon. It took six hours for him to get two miles outside of Arlington. He drove all night, finally arriving home the morning of Sept. 12.}
Despite the long day, Hook found himself glued to the television, finally seeing video of the attack the rest of the country had been watching throughout the past day.
The next week, he was back in the Pentagon for his second meeting originally scheduled for Sept. 11. Employees had shifted into makeshift offices and were in most ways back to work, but pictures memorializing the dead lined the walls.
“On Sept. 10 we didn’t know we were about to be in a global war on terrorism, but on Sept. 11, we were at war,” Hook said. “The Pentagon was on war footing six days later when I returned.”
Three years later, Hook retired from the Army after 29 years and took a teaching and coaching position at Augusta Christian School. The decision, he said, had nothing to do with the events of Sept. 11. It just happened to be the way God was leading him.
Behind his desk is an illustration of the Pentagon with signatures of some of the survivors and where they were at 9:37 a.m. Sept. 11.
He hasn’t brought up the experience with his new students this year yet. As eighth and ninth graders, he said, they were much too young to remember the day.