On September 11, 2001, Air Force flight surgeon John Baxter showed up to work at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, to a full load of patients and completing physicals–just like any other day.

A red flower sits atop of every bench to remember the fallen on Sept. 11, 2001.

A red flower sits atop of every bench to remember the fallen on Sept. 11, 2001, during the Pentagon Memorial Observance Ceremony in Washington D.C., Sept. 11, 2018. Defense Department photo by Tech. Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Halfway through his morning while getting his next patient, he saw that a civilian airliner had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers.

While with the patient, Baxter said he noticed the background noise in the Pentagon changed. It seemed quieter than usual. Then, he heard shouts. He opened his door and saw people running and shouting, and smoke in the hallway.

At first, Baxter didn’t know if there was an explosion, a fire or some other event. Despite the unknowns, he assembled his team of flight surgeons, a nurse and medical technicians. They grabbed medical kits and traveled as a group. Their emergency plan was to meet up with other medics at the Pentagon’s DiLorenzo Clinic.

Then they heard the news: there were casualties in corridor 5.

Baxter’s team ran to the spot. They found Army Veteran Brian Birdwell, who was in excruciating pain from burns. It was a situation that Baxter was unexpectedly prepared for: Months earlier, in an emergency exercise, the flight clinic trained for the same scenario that unfolded on 9/11: a plane crashing into the Pentagon.

John Baxter still serves at the Pentagon, though now as a civilian flight surgeon. For this week’s Born the Battle Podcast, Baxter details his story of 9/11 and the days that followed.

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By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on Sep. 11, 2019

Estimated reading time is 1.8 min.

Views to date: 356


  1. John C Grimsley, Lt Col USAF Ret September 16, 2019 at 10:32 am

    I had a very good friend and fellow Christian who was working in an office in the section of the Pentagon that took a direct hit from the plane. Moments before the crash he left the office to pick up a TV so his office mates could watch the days events. Before he could return everyone in his office lost their lives in that horrendous event. Although a strong Christian who spent years helping others, he still at some level was never able to completely shake the survivor’s guilt he felt on that fateful day. He battled cancer twice and lost the last battle. A great man and even more wonderful Christian man.

  2. Donna Cornell September 13, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Thank you ALL in our Military for ALL you have sacrificed and the courage and bravery that took place that day was ‘beyond the call of duty’ in ALL the stories I have heard from the World Trade Center folks inside, to the Fireman and Police outside coming in, yes ‘going INSIDE to the danger’ to RESCUE others!
    And, for the incredible CONTINUED sacrifice of ALL our Military to which we have family also and words will never be able to express my appreciation for ALL in our Military, thank you again.
    God DOES bless America, it is NOT God Who ’caused’ this nor God Who was ‘teaching any lesson’ from this! We KNOW clearly it was ‘hate-filled, terrorists’ whose ‘false god’ of ‘false deadly, dark ideology’ that taught them to ‘hate’ and be ‘destructive’….the Word of God calls that Satan, plain and simple. We ‘forgive’ them but we will NOT ‘forget’ this lesson of ‘history’ just as we will NOT ‘forget’ the Holocaust! There is NO ‘denying’ of ‘evil’ with folks like Hitler or terrorists of a ‘false and evil god’ they ‘choose’ to be a part of, but WE, THE TRUE AMERICANS ‘STAND TOGETHER’ AND WILL ‘PRAY’ AND GIVE THANKS TO OUR GOD, THAT WE WILL CONTINUE TO DO ALL WE CAN TO ‘PROTECT’ THIS GREAT NATION, WE CALL AMERICA AND KEEP IT AS IT WAS FOUNDED, ‘ONE NATION, UNDER GOD, INDIVISIBLE WITH ‘LIBERTY AND JUSTICE’ FOR ‘ALL’!

  3. AKelly September 12, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    I can’t believe its been 18 years since tragic day known as 9/11. I was Active Duty Air Force at the time stationed in Illinois. I worked the night shift and when I got off work I went to eat breakfast with some friends. The news about the first plane to hit the World Trade Center Tower came across the TV and the entire restaurant went silent as we all watched to see what was happening. The whole thing was surreal and it didn’t seem real. My friends and I left and I went home. Instead of my normal routine and going to bed at a certain time for night shift schedule I sat on the couch and watched the whole day unfold. The second plane to hit tower, plane hitting the Pentagon and the brave men and women of Flight 93 thwarting the hijackers.

    In our history there have been other tragedies where no one ever forgets where they were and what they were doing when it happened. On 9/11 2001 Terrorism stood on American soil and brought our country to its knees. But….we got right back up again, shook it off and went to work evacuating people from towers, digging survivors out of the rubble, providing aid and care to people we did not know simply because that’s what we do when tragedy strikes.

    My heartfelt Thank you to the Fire Fighters, police officers, other first responders, volunteers, strangers…anyone and everyone who lent a helping hand when your country needed you most. Rest in Peace those who lost their lives and God Speed to the living that gave all to help on that tragic unforgettable day.

  4. maxwell September 12, 2019 at 12:09 am

    Air Force flight surgeon showed up to work at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia,

    To me, John Baxter is a hero to this country. I wish could bump into you someday.

  5. Wizkid September 11, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    This post is very informative

  6. Richard Thompson September 11, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    On 9/11, eighteen years ago I began a new job as a veterans service officer and we lost a close family friend in the World Trade Center destruction. We have never forgotten nor will ever forget what happened on that day. May we remember all the brave first responders, veterans and civilians who made such a difference in being there to help. May they always be remembered. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.

  7. CSM(R) Jay F. Lovelace September 11, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    I’m a retired U.S. Army, Special Forces CSM, on 9/11 I was the CSM for the Special Forces Qualification Course MOS phase. I was flying from Ft Bragg, NC to New York City to observe our Special Forces Medical Students working, learning and practicing their their advanced medical skills in two hospitals as well as riding with the New York City Paramedics and responding to 911 Emergency calls.

    I did not make it to New York City on this day 18 years ago, but did finally make it to Dallas, TX!

    Thank you to all of America’s First Responders, our Military and Civilians for the hard work they all perform to protect our great country and our values and many freedoms we have.

    v/r Jay F Lovelace, CSM(R), USA

    • james mccotter manning September 12, 2019 at 1:49 pm

      Like yourself,I[also] was SF[1st 5th 7th 46th Co[Thailand] Tng gp JFKCMA

  8. GEORGE BERRY JR September 11, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    for all who where able to help it was a blessing to have you answer the call for help in an emergency we should never forget

  9. Steve Lowe September 11, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you for your service sir, military and civilian.

  10. John William Jones September 11, 2019 at 9:10 am

    Remembering all who were lost and all those that were injured and the brave first responders and civilians who rushed to help on that day, eighteen years ago. Let us never forget.

Comments are closed.

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