The day American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, killing 64 on board and 125 in the military facility, is seared into the memories of those lucky enough to survive.
But for Brian Birdwell and Louise Kurtz, the scars are more than just psychological. Both were badly injured as burning jet fuel sprayed them, leaving permanent disfigurements.
Birdwell, now a Texas state senator, was then a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel working at the Pentagon when Flight 77, commandeered by terrorists, nosedived into the military facility.
Instantly, flames licked his body and his polyester Army pants melted to his skin. His arms were burned down to the muscle and his forehead was seared.
In intense pain with more than 60% of his body burned, Birdwell believed he was minutes from death, and would never again see his wife Mel or 12-year-old son Matt.
"I faced the finality of my life; I knew that I was dying at that moment. I thought about Mel and Matt. I thought, 'What a terrible way to go,'" Birdwell told FamilyLife.com.
"Shortly after that realization, I cried out, 'Jesus, I’m coming to see you.'"
Pulled from the wreckage, he remained in intensive care for 26 days and underwent 39 operations over four years.
He would have been crushed in his office if he hadn’t stepped out for a minute to use the bathroom.
"So, without question, the Lord was guiding my actions that day," said Birdwell, who's launched a nonprofit, Face the Fire Ministries, in support of burn victims and wounded combat veterans.
Kurtz, who was at a fax machine in the Pentagon’s Army Resource Services office when the nightmare began, remembered agonizing pain as her skin and bones literally melted away.
"I was like meat when you take it off the grill," recalled the 49-year-old accountant.
With more than 70% of her body burned, she managed to crawl on top of a table and out a window before lapsing into unconsciousness. Doctors gave her a 50% chance of survival.
After multiple skin grafts, Kurtz was released three months later — all of her fingers gone and minus both ears.
"I’m not buried in self-pity, because there is no point in it," Kurtz told the Washington Times. "I hated [the terrorists] for about two minutes. But there just is no room for hatred in my life."
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