Three men with ties to Central Illinois had barely digested that the United States was under attack when American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into their place of work.
Guy Snyder, then a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard and a former resident of Decatur, saw it happen from Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.
"I was looking out across the river at the city, and I saw the crash at the Pentagon," Snyder recalled. "There was a lot of emotion: anger, fear, confusion. And a lot of chaos ensued after that."
Monte Froman, a Tuscola native who was a civilian liaison officer for the U.S. military entrance processing command, was at his desk in the Pentagon, retrieving a tooth that had broken off as he chewed a doughnut, when he felt a vibration and heard a muffled roar.
The impact knocked some of Craig Powell's co-workers to the floor as parts of the jetliner passed beneath his fifth-floor office, where the Navy SEAL had reported for work only a week earlier.
They had been watching President Bush on TV from Florida, giving his first public reaction to the jets that had struck the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York just minutes before.
"The building shook, and I knew from my experience with demolitions that it wasn't a bomb," said Powell, whose parents lived in Decatur at the time.
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The time was 9:37 a.m., and the date was Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.
The trio reacted quickly. Snyder made two cell phone calls, one to his wife Kathleen in Urbana and the other to his parents, who lived in Mississippi at the time, before service around the nation was jammed. He then assisted the Coast Guard from where he was with recovery efforts all day.
Froman ran to the courtyard at the center of the Pentagon and could see smoke and fire coming over the top of the building.
"We went back into the office and told everyone to grab their stuff and leave the building," he said. "We said we didn't know what had happened but people were running and walking very fast to our corridor."
Powell, closest of the three to the impact area, also left the building then looked for ways to help people still trapped inside.
First he caught four people who jumped, one at a time, from a second-story window. Then he steadied a stepladder on top another man's shoulders so the last two people could climb down.
After that, the 6-foot-5-inch Powell entered through a hole, worked with others to free a man pinned under a desk and propped up a sagging ceiling while screaming for everyone to get out.
Army Sgt. Maj. Tony Rose witnessed his heroism and mentioned it when interviewed for the book, "America's Heroes: Inspiring Stories of Courage, Sacrifice and Patriotism."
The attack on the Pentagon killed 189 people, a much lower number than it would have been had the jet not struck a renovated section of the building that was only partially occupied.
Today Snyder, 48, lives in Mahomet and is executive director of Canterbury Ridge retirement and assisted living in Urbana after retiring from the Coast Guard.
He said he tries not to dwell on the fact that he happened to be out of his office that September morning.
"You can't live life that way. Being in the military, you are faced with inherent risks," Snyder said.
Credited with saving a dozen lives on 9/11 and now a Navy captain serving in Hawaii as deputy commander of special operations in the Pacific, Powell feels much the same way. "What happened at the Pentagon pales in comparison to the tsunami of 2004," he said.
Froman, 63, retired from government service and moved to Decatur in 2002 to be near his sister and her husband.
He said he suffered from anxiety after 9/11 but that has long since diminished to a heightened vigilance whenever he flies or is in a large group of people.
"When I'm at a Cardinal game in St. Louis, I'm just a little bit more alert," Froman said. "Even though we're a free country, the attacks raised our awareness that not everyone likes us."