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9/11 search and rescue team soldier shares trauma left behind after Pentagon attack

On Sept. 11, they transformed from ceremonial soldiers to search and rescue teams. And 20 years later, 'The Old Guard' soldiers still face trauma from the Pentagon.

ARLINGTON, Va. — On a clear September morning, former Army Staff Sgt. Danny Farrar walked along the stretch of road outside Arlington National Cemetery. As he looked across the road, the Pentagon came into view.

“It will always be that day when I see it,” Farrar said suddenly.

He, like so many of us, can’t forget what happened that day. Everything he did that day seems to be crystallized in time. However, to Danny, it feels like the country forgot about him and his fellow soldiers.

It’s been 20 years since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 and many of the soldiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Unit still remember the role they played in the aftermath.

Up until that point, the soldiers, like Danny Farrar, represented the Army's 3rd Infantry or ‘The Old Guard’ as the members of the Army’s oldest active-duty unit. It’s mostly a ceremonial outfit.

“We used to joke and say we were toy soldiers,” Farrar remembered. “Our job was to look good at drill and ceremony and help with recruitment.”

The Old Guard can be seen escorting the president, presiding over funerals, and welcoming foreign dignitaries. But its lesser-known function is to protect the Nation’s Capital if it’s under attack. Like it was on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We're kind of the lost generation of 9/11,” Farrar said.

Credit: US Army

After American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, you may remember the mass evacuation and the fire crews. But, you might not have seen Danny and the other soldiers of the Old Guard going into action.

“I was 22 years old at the time, a young NCO,” he said. “You're going to go from I'm getting ready to hold a toy rifle for a dignitary to you're going to deploy to downtown D.C.”

He and the others in the Old Guard’s Charlie Company watched The Pentagons’ perimeter as fire crews battled the blaze and families of victims began to show up.

“For 24 hours you just listened to people sobbing and wailing and crying,” he said. “You know, it has a profound effect on you.”

As the fire came under control, the members of Charlie Company volunteered for the next mission: Recovering bodies of the victims from inside the wreckage.

Now 20 years later, Danny still vividly remembers those first steps into the crash zone, dressed in little more than a plastic suit, gloves, and a surgeon mask.

Credit: Danny Farrar

“There [are] wires hanging all over the place, walls have buckled,” he recalled. “You're walking anywhere between ankle-deep to calf-deep water from where the fire department sprayed so much water trying to put the fire out.”

Amid the wreckage, he remembers finding pieces of the plane, birthday cards and teddy bears, and worst of all human body parts.

“The nature of the way that you find these remains is it's pretty horrific. I mean, if, if you can think of a bad way to find a human person, we found them in that way.”

For the next few weeks, the men of Charlie Company combed the rubble for victims around the clock.

Credit: The Pentagon

It left images Danny still carries in his head. For years, he battled depression, PTSD and a slew of physical problems that came from his 9/11 work.

“It wasn't until the 17th reunion where we all sit down and we're all like, ‘Man, my stomach's just jacked up and my skin is messed up and I have these issues or these nightmares,’ where guys started to talk,” he started to smile.

That was 2018. It was the first time since 9/11 Danny and the men of Charlie Company reunited and healing began.

“The moment that you understand that you're not alone, I think is always a profound moment for people,” he explained. “It makes them feel like, ‘Oh, man, I can let my guard down a bit because I'm not weak. I'm not a pansy. A lot of people are struggling.’”

While the 20th anniversary of 9/11 begins, Danny Farrar still feels Charlie Company’s work has been forgotten. But, the men of Charlie company haven’t forgotten each other. 

“We went in there with nothing, not a lick of PPE,” he said. “But at the end of the day, there's not one of us that wouldn't have done it again.”

Danny said he continues to deal with the struggles of his mental trauma from his 9/11 work and from combat. But in the last 20 years, he has moved forward. He started his own business. He set up a nonprofit, called Platoon 22, to help other veterans deal with their trauma. He has even spearheaded a fundraising campaign to build a Veterans Center in Frederick, Md.

This year again, the guys of Charlie Company will do their own remembrance, a second reunion. For the 20th anniversary, Danny and Platoon 22 raised thousands of dollars to bring the forgotten soldiers together one more time.

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