MANSFIELD – State Sen. Brian Birdwell drew numerous standing ovations Tuesday when he retold his story of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon to members of the Reagan Legacy Republican Women's club.
Birdwell was the only survivor in the E-Wing of the Pentagon, he told RLRW club members. He recalled receiving burns to 60 percent of his body and multiple times believing his death was imminent.
"I'm here to tell you a window office is not all it is cracked up to be," Birdwell said.
He walked what he described as no more than 15 yards to the restroom, twice crossing the soon to be jet airliner crash site.
"I know I stand in front of you and you say, 'he looks pretty good for getting run over by a 757,'" Birdwell said.
He was the keynote speaker during the meeting devoted to raising funds for the Wounded Warriors Project.
"I'm not ashamed of the tears," Birdwell said, as he recalled the events at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. "We're working on 11 years now. I don't want you ever to forget."
He recalled having to make "39 trips to the operating room" during his recovery and one of the highlights being a meeting and exchange with President George W. Bush.
The call came in to his wife, Mel's, cell phone from a Secret Service agent for the president.
"There's really only one response and Mel gave it," Birdwell recalled. "'How'd you get my phone number?' she asked the agent."
"He responded, "We're the Secret Service," Birdwell said.
When Bush walked into the room to visit Birdwell, he saluted, Birdwell recalled, and slowly the Army colonel responded as he was able.
"He told me, 'This is not going to go unanswered,'" Birdwell said. "I don't think it was just him speaking to me, but him speaking for the nation."
Birdwell was presented the Purple Heart from wounds he received on 9/11. He said he had finished a soft drink that morning and needed to use the restroom.
"It takes no act of valor to step out of the restroom," Birdwell said. "It does take an act of valor to step out into World War II, Korea, Vietnam or on any other battle field."
In moments after he stepped out the restroom a jet came barreling through the outer Pentagon wall, resulting in more casualties than the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
"I remember having my last time in that hallway," Birdwell said. "It was my last time I would be seen on this side of eternity. Through God's grace, it didn't kill me."
He retold the feeling in a hospital later of being "indisposed, bleeding badly and skinned alive."
"I needed medical attention badly," Birdwell said. "The only place there was unburned flesh was on the top of my feet."
He likened the military serviceman and woman to a scene out of "The Shootist," starring his hero, John Wayne, with Ron Howard. In the scene, Wayne explains that its easy to put bullets in a tree in a tight grouping, but its another matter when someone shoots back.
"The difference is being willing," Birdwell said.
He explained that American military men and women deployed overseas are willing and able.
"This was an act of war," Birdwell said.
His complete story has been told at www.iamsecond.com.