Jim Lucas never intended to make a career out of serving in the Army. It just happened that way.
Lucas, 78, who served in the Army for nearly three decades and even worked his way into the Pentagon, where he was employed during the 9/11 terror attacks 20 years ago. His office was 70 feet away from where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., nearly an hour after the first of two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center.
The first wedge of renovations at the Pentagon at the time was struck. The second wedge, where Lucas was working, was vacated for renovations at the time, and his offices were moved to the site of recent finished work.
“That’s where I came up through 9/11 and after,” he said. “It didn’t do much damage. It was interesting in that it knocked some of the ceiling tiles out mostly, but the office next to us, which was even further (away) in the center, it set the sprinklers off in that office and our office remained dry.”
As fate would have it, Lucas, who lived a mile away from the Pentagon, was on leave at the time. The couple visited Berea, went on to Lake Cumberland for a family reunion and on to Port Charlotte, Florida where his mother was undergoing a planned back surgery on that very day. After making sure his mother was prepared for surgery, Lucas planned to sleep and told his wife not to wake him up until later that morning.
It wasn’t long before Lucas was alerted by his wife Betty that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. It wasn’t long before Lucas and his wife realized what had transpired before their eyes wasn’t an accident.
“I was thinking it was some kind of general aviation accident,” he said.
Later, they watched in horror as another hijacked plane penetrated into a segment of the outer wing of the Pentagon. The plane flew into the office of Army Lieutenant Tim Maude, who lived in the same neighborhood as Lucas at the time of the attacks.
When Lucas returned to retrieve his belongings at the Pentagon, his office space was virtually untouched, although sprinkler systems from a nearby office were activated, resulting in water and heat damage near the site.
“Nobody was hurt in our office, but I think with one guy, the shock waves forced him to jump out of his chair,” he recalled. “They evacuated everybody from the building to corridor 4. The plane hit basically between corridor 4 and corridor 5, which was the next wedge. If it would have been in our old office, everybody would have been killed, because our old office was consumed with the flames and everything else, where we had moved out of 60-90 days before 9/11.”
Lucas hasn’t reflected much on that day since then and has instead focused on the future.
“I had the philosophy even in Vietnam, that when it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go,” he said. “I hope it’s quick and painless or if it’s painful, it’s very quick. I’m a firm believer that you are given so much time on earth when you’re born. When that amount of time is reach and when you are going to go, there is nothing that’s going to prevent it.”
At the time, Lucas said three personal who worked in the area that was hit by the civilian aircraft, had a change of plans that very morning.
“One had gone to the rest room, one had gone to get a cup of coffee and one had a dental appointment,” he said. “It wasn’t their time to go. I may not have any feelings, but even in Vietnam, casualties unfortunately I had only one guy killed in my platoon on Christmas Day in 1967, it happens.”