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FMS Students Learn About Sept. 11 Terrorist Attacks from 1st-Hand Witness, Former Pentagon Worker

Dale Goodrich talks to students

Only a couple of weeks after the 17th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, seventh graders at Franklin Middle School had the opportunity to hear from a first-hand witness of the day’s tragic events.

Dale Goodrich was a pilot for United Airlines and a colonel in the Air Force Reserve working at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. on Sept. 11, 2001. He is a Ken-Ton native whose nephew, Ian Lauffer, is a seventh grader at Franklin Middle. Goodrich was invited to speak to seventh-grade social studies classes by social studies teacher Tara Gabel as the students learn about the attacks and their profound impact on society and world events.

Speaking to seventh-grade classes in the Franklin Middle library, and assisted by his nephew Ian, Goodrich began by talking about the Pentagon – what it is, why it is called that, and the critical role it plays as the headquarters for the Department of Defense. He talked about how the day unfolded for him on Sept. 11, 2001 as he reported for duty in the National Military Command Center (NMCC), which is located in the Pentagon and serves as a command and communications center for the highest levels of the U.S. military. Goodrich wasn’t supposed to be working that day; he was only there because he had agreed to cover a shift for a sick colleague.

At the time, Goodrich’s role was to monitor and report on matters of interest to his commanding officer, and he was monitoring supply routes in Eastern Europe when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the World Trade Center’s North Tower. He and many of his colleagues were watching news reports of the crash on the giant screens of the NMCC when they saw the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, strike the South Tower. It was clear that this was part of a coordinated attack, and word began to spread around the NMCC that at least one hijacked airliner was airborne and en route to Washington D.C. The Pentagon was an obvious target.

Goodrich recalled the helpless feeling he had as he watched the events unfold while continuing to do his job. He recalled hearing the explosion as American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon: a muffled double boom, like an industrial-sized air conditioner switching on. The first boom, he explained, was the sound of the plane striking the ground; the second was the sound as it crashed into the western side of the Pentagon. The crash killed 59 innocent passengers and crew aboard the plane and another 125 workers in the Pentagon, including one of Goodrich’s close friends whose office was directly in line with the impact.

Goodrich talked about the day on a personal level. He recalled the feeling of shock that set in, but having faced emergencies before as a pilot, he knew how to handle it and continue his work. He wanted to get a message to his wife to let her know that he was okay but couldn’t get a line out. The NMCC began to get crowded with workers from other parts of the building who were displaced by the smoke of the fire, and Goodrich and other workers moved to another sprawling nearby space that housed the Crisis Action Team. He was there when Donald Rumseld, Secretary of Defense, arrived with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and many others. It was the first time Goodrich had ever been in such close quarters with the nation’s highest military leaders.

Finally, Goodrich talked about what it was like working in the hours and days after the attack. He talked about his experience flying a commercial airliner for United Airlines immediately following the attack. He also talked about how the events of Sept. 11 changed the country, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and what it meant for airport security.

The students questioned Goodrich on a variety of topics, everything from what motivated the terrorists to commit such acts and how they managed to get aboard and take over the airplanes, to what he would do if he could travel back in time to that day. In answer to one student’s question about how Sept. 11 changed the country, Goodrich talked about what he called a new normal – how safe and secure many felt prior to Sept. 11 and the challenge of balancing freedom and security in the aftermath of the attack.

"When we studied the events of the September 11 attacks, I quickly realized that my students knew very little because they were not yet born in 2001,” Gabel said. “The opportunity to have someone who was there come and talk to them really helped them to understand the depth of the tragedy and just how powerful it was.”

Goodrich was born and raised in Ken-Ton, is a 1976 graduate of Kenmore East High School, and is a member of the Kenmore East Hall of Distinction. Goodrich attended Bowling Green State University as well as Squadron Officer School, the Air Command and Staff College, and the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base. He was a longtime United Airlines pilot with three decades of distinguished service in the Air Force Reserve. He flew strategic airlift missions in support of combat operations during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and he went on to become military director of the Air Traffic Services Cell, which serves as the Defense Department’s primary liaison to the Federal Aviation Administration, and as the first executive director of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS) Institute.


Dale Goodrich & Ian Lauffer

Dale Goodrich & Ian Lauffer