The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

October 15, 2012

'Not going to be a normal day'

By JOSEPH HAMRICK
Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — Sometimes laughing and telling jokes, other times pausing to keep from choking up, Brian Birdwell recounted his graphic, heroic story of surviving the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.

Birdwell spoke at the event An Evening of Hope at the Hope Center of Greenville on Saturday night. There he said that that day seemed to be routine.

“The morning started out as any other,” he told the audience at the First Baptist Church Family Life Center. “The commute to Washington is like driving in any other big city, it’s like an olympic race.”

Birdwell said he had been in his office with his two co-workers for a while, until one of them received a call from her daughter.

“At nine o’clock Sandy got a call from her daughter and said to turn the TV on because a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center,” he said. “Then I knew this was not going to be a normal day in our life.”

According to Birdwell, after watching the events unfold he and his co-workers began to pray together.

“We knelt down and were praying for those firemen,” he said.

Birdwell said because he had drunk a coke in the morning, he had to step out to the restroom. That trip saved his life.

“I told them I’d be right back,” Birdwell said. “I didn’t realize that it would be the last thing I ever said to them.”

After using the restroom, Birdwell said he was seven or eight steps out when the plane hit.

“When the nose made impact, the nose peeled like a banana,” he said.

The impact of the crash knocked him to the ground and the ensuing flame caught him on fire.

“Because of the heat and my burns, I was in the slow process of drowning on the inside while burning on the outside,” he said. “My medals and name badge had been melted.”

According to Birdwell, he stumbled and crawled and was not able to move well due to the damage done to his inner ears from the blast.

“The only light around me was the ambient light from the fires,” Birdwell said. “I knew I was going to die. That finality and permanancy of it; there’s no way to describe it.”

Birdwell said one of his friends, along with three others, found him lying on the ground. But his friend could not recognize Birdwell because of how badly burned he was.

“I recognized Bill but Bill did not recognize me,” he said. “In their haste to pick me up, each grabbed one of my extremeties and gave a tug.”

Birdwell said they moved, but he did not.

“Because of how badly burned I was, they pulled chunks off of my skin,” Birdwell said.

Birdwell said the pain was excruciating but that the worst was yet to come.

“I was put in a hydrotherapy room,” he said. “It was no spa, it was a ghastly experience. You know when you got a cut or a burn and your mom put rubbing alcohol on it and you blew on it to cool the pain. My body was 60 percent.”

Although the physical pain was tremendous, Birdwell said the hardest part was his son seeing his father in that condition.

“After the surgery I was wrapped up like a mummy,” he said. “The hardest thing God asked me to do was to say goodbye to my son in such agony.”

According to Birdwell, it was not his military training that saved his life.

“It wasn’t my strength as a soldier, but my faith in Jesus Christ that got me through,” he said. “I survived it because the toughest man in the world walked the earth 2,000 years ago.”

Birdwell said he firgives the terrorists who changed his life forever, but that he will never forget that day.

“As a person it is my responsibility to forgive those men,” he said. “But 11 years and one month later it’s still a very intense, personal experience.”

According to Birdwell, the conditions of his survival, from having to use the restroom at that time to the sprinkler system still working and dousing the fire that burned him, was nothing short of a miracle.

“I want you to understand that the Lord still works miracles and this nation is still in need of His grace and mercy,” he said.