From: The Role of the Army Reserve in the 11 September Attacks: The Pentagon
INTERVIEWER: Could you tell me what you were doing on 11 September 2001?
SIMON: On 11 September, I came in to do my normal work. As I was driving in, on the radio,
WTOP, I learned about the Trade Center incident. I am a member of the Evidence Response
Team for the Washington field office. When I got into the office . . . [I], of course, heard about
the Pentagon. I was one of the first agents on the scene out at the Pentagon.
INTERVIEWER: How soon were you at the Pentagon?
SIMON: I would say myself and four other agents were there within ten minutes of the incident.
INTERVIEWER: When did you realize that you would need outside support from the Army or
a mortuary affairs unit?
SIMON: From the Army, specifically, I realized as I was coming over the bridge [that I was
going to need support]. This was going to be a major undertaking. It was going to take
everybody: local authorities, state authorities, federal authorities, and military. . . . The Pentagon
was the best location for a tragedy like this to occur because we lacked for no resources . . . .
I believe that it was day three, was Friday when I was given twenty-three individuals and
I was told by my management that we were beginning to do this operation in the north parking
lot. Basically, the operation in the north parking lot was . . . excavating areas of the Pentagon
that had been searched already at the scene for remains. Then they were taking that excavation
and taking it to the north parking lot for sifting operation. So that very first day, that Friday
evening, I went over the hill with twenty-three people.
INTERVIEWER: FBI agents?
SIMON: It was a mish-mash of federal and local authorities. . . . I believe it was Sunday, no, I
believe it was Monday . . . when the first contingency of the 311th reported on the scene. . . .
They were already there, but they had not gotten their marching orders yet. . . . Saturday was the
first full day of work. After the first full day of work, . . . we realized we would need a lot more
assistance. . . . I did direct liaison with the CO [commanding officer], Lieutenant Martinez and
the other commander from the 311th.
INTERVIEWER: What was your first impression of the 311th?
SIMON: I was four and a half years regular Army and two years National Guard. So I had both
sides of the fence. . . . I had no preconceived notions at all like "I am getting a Reserve unit and
they are going to be a bunch of reservists, you know, part-timers." I knew that there are a lot of
good units out there. I remember speaking to them toward the end of the operation. I told them
and I meant it, “I would stack that unit up . . . with any regular Army or National Guard unit that
I ever served in.” They were a fantastic bunch of people.
I never dealt with a mortuary detail. I was thinking, I was in infantry myself, and I was
thinking mortuary detail. What kind of a soldier is going to come out of a mortuary detail? But
they were topnotch people. . . . I can’t remember how many times when I needed something to
get done I would look around and see ten or twenty civilians, federal agents or local officers. . .
This is . . . something I want the Army to do. I would go right to the first sergeant of the 311th
or the platoon sergeant from the Old Guard and say, “Sergeant, I don’t mean to bother you, but
could you help me out? Could I get this taken care of?” They would reply, “No problem, agent
Simon.” And it was done. . . .
We were given two individuals from the FBI hazardous materials unit who oversaw the
[decontamination], but we were deconning three hundred people for lunch and for breaks and for
shift changes. That is a lot of people to run through a decon line. The 311th gave up fifteen to
eighteen soldiers each shift that did nothing but decon. They did an excellent job and are well
equipped for it. . . .
INTERVIEWER: Could we discuss some of the work procedures that the 311th followed?
What phases did you work with them and how did they change?
SIMON: They were at the scene, like I said, the very second day. Their primary mission there
was the mortuary detail, remains recovery. . . . Basically, we teamed up five individuals from the
311th with the dog units. We would take a pile of rubble from the Pentagon, and we would
spread it out along the parking lot. Then the dogs would go through it. If they alerted on an
area, then the five-person team from the 311th would concentrate on that area to locate the
remains . . . .
We had two piles [of rubble] and they were probably three to four stories high. We had
pieces of concrete and steel in there that were larger than three or four human beings. . . . We had
two sites operating. We had a five-man team on site A and a five-man team on site B. The
remaining 311th crew was working in the regular work force finding all this other stuff, the
evidence, personal effects, and classified materials, and what not after the regular work force
went through it a second time. Then we had the dogs go through a third time, an overabundance
of caution. . . . Whenever remains were recovered, the 311th took the remains over, properly
packaged them, and then stayed with the remains till they were transported off to the temporary
mortuary. That was their primary function out there, but they did much more than that.
We only had ten-man teams working on the remains recovery. We had a fifteen-soldier
team working on the NBC [nuclear, biological, and chemical] lines. That was yeomen’s work
because . . . you were out in an open area unprotected from the elements. There were a couple of
days when it got into the nineties. You were in full NBC gear. That exacerbated the weather
element and to sit there and bend over. Oftentimes, these people were on their hands and knees
going through this rubble with their hands or hand rakes. To sit there and rake and shovel and
sift through this rubble is just backbreaking work . . . .
The other things they assisted with were raising tents, moving gear. We had a separate
decon site that I affectionately referred to as "tent city." We had our break areas. We had the
Salvation Army and the Red Cross down there providing hot meals. We even had a chapel set
up for the chaplains.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds like Unity City?
SIMON: Exactly, we had our own little version of Unity City, way scaled down. The Old
Guard and the 311th basically built that city from scratch for us . . . .
INTERVIEWER: How long did you work with the 311th at the incident site?
SIMON: Sixteenth through I believe the last day was the 28th. They came on the 16th, I
believe, the full time we were there till we locked up shop. As a matter of fact, they were the last
people to leave with us. They helped pack up . . . .
INTERVIEWER: How would you describe the 311th’s professionalism and morale?
SIMON: Like I said, their professionalism was exemplary. They were one of the best units I
have worked with, and I have worked with a lot of units. . . . There was not a whole lot of joking
and smoking going on down there [at the Pentagon], because like you said, it was probably one
of the most important missions. I know for a fact that it was the most important mission I have
ever been on in my military service or in my government service. Nothing I have ever done had
ever compared to the work we did at the Pentagon. Everyone knew that going in. The focus of
the entire [operation] here and the country as a whole was going to be on what happened at the
Pentagon, at least from the military point of view. It seemed that the entire nation was concerned
about the New York incident and rightfully so because those were civilian casualties. But, as far
as military personnel goes, that was probably the most important mission we have done in
decades. It was exemplary the way they handled their mission . . . .
I had a nice, long talk with the first sergeant about [the] 311th’s main mission, this
mortuary detail. . . . I asked him, “How do you recruit anybody to come to your unit?” It is not a
high profile job. He told me stories about how when recruits first come in, he brings them into
his office and asks them, “Do you understand what this unit is all about?”
Samuel Simon, interview by Sergeant William Miller, tape recording with transcript, 12 December 2001