Less than a handful of the images taken in the aftermath of the attack of September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon, shot by either photojournalists or military photographers, came with a caption identifying the persons figuring in them---whether they were victim, responder or rescuer.
One that did, was this DoD release, number DF-SD-02-10003, taken midday by TSGT Jim Varhegyi, ASAF, where the man on the right is identified as Lieutenant General (Dr.) Paul Carlton Jr., Surgeon General of the Air Force, and the man in the center is identified as Master Sergeant Noel Sepulveda, USAF. The man on the left is not identified but he wears around his neck a strap with the initials ICAF, so most likely he's a bigwig from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. The caption goes on to say that the "Pentagon employees pitch in to help where needed," not forgetting to add the repeating drumbeat of all the other, info-less captions: that a "hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757-200 was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon, September 11, 2001. The Pentagon attack followed an attack on the twin towers of the New York World Trade Center, when two fully loaded passenger airliners were flown into the buildings, in what is being called the worst terrorist attack in history."
It is surprising not to find in any of the images of the military hero-rescuers, evidence of any soot, grime or exertion--despite the toil the terroristic conditions found inside the collapsing Pentagon building must have taken on them, an admirable standard of military bearing and demeanor was maintained across the board, although, in the above shot, a small stain can be seen hear the elbow of General Carlton's still crisply starched shirt.
Also rare in the photographic record is any cross references, but in the Jason Ingersoll image below, number DM-SD-02-03906 in the DoD archives, we find two. The man on the right is Michael Garcia of the Pentagon’s Defense Protective Service, its uniformed police service. He, along with Corporal Ingersoll, a Marine Corps photographer, and SSGT. Brian Boisvert, a U.S. Air Force photographer, are responsible for the 1600 images deposited in the Smithsonian Museum collection September 11: Bearing Witness to history.
The man on the left is unidentified, while Master Sergeant Sepulveda is at center. They appear to be sharing a light moment, although one difficult to place in the timeline. The Pentagon is smoking furiously, while an active diesel-fuel fire rages to the right, and no firemen can be seen anywhere in the broad view. It is similar to the images taken during one of the several pullbacks due to reports of unknown incoming aircraft. If this is the case, it is surprising to find the men standing out in the middle of the highway and behaving so light-heartedly.
Blowing up the image to highlight the men, it is apparent to me that Sepulveda is definitely cracking a grin, probably in response to something funny the man on the left has said. They all look away from the matter at hand, which one would think would be the focus of their attentions. Perhaps they take a break to collect their thoughts on the higher meanings of the day's events, and they laugh only to let off some tension.
The Smithsonian exhibit states that policeman Garcia, and photographers Ingersoll and Boisvert had "broad access to secure areas immediately after the September 11 attack and during the following week. Their images show firefighters battling the flames, destroyed offices, the cleanup, and aerial shots of the Pentagon."
In Michael Garcia's Smithsonian Museum Statement he states, "We jumped out of the vehicle and went to help. CSMGT Walko and I assisted in securing the crime scene and then we entered the building from two separate areas in an attempt to rescue anybody still trapped inside the building. Inside the building the smoke was overwhelming, and with no breathing apparatus we had to exit the building or risk becoming causalities ourselves." Although it is difficult to tell given the photographs resolution, Garcia doesn't look any worse the wear for his rescue experience.
Likewise Sepulveda, who on April 15, 2002 was awarded the Airman's Medal and Purple Heart during a ceremony in the Pentagon courtyard, where "hundreds of coworkers, friends and family members gathered as Sepulveda and 27 other Air Force members received recognition for their selfless acts of heroism during the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon." In this U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Varhegyi, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper pins a medal on Master Sgt. Sepulveda. It's hard to imagine when Sepulveda did any rescuing, let alone when he was wounded, given his appearance in the limited photographic evidence we possess.
It's also difficult for me to reconcile the reports of heroism and sacrifice displayed by the Pentagon employees who responded on September 11, which already have become part of a great myth of American valor in response to dastardly, unprovoked attacks, with a photographic record of Arlington showing no such thing. Like the missing photographs and videos taken of the Pentagon facade before a section fell, which could clear up the confusion and disbelief that a 757 jetliner had impacted the building, perhaps some of the other 1600 photographs the museum holds could prove some truth that we could take pride in, but it is unlikely. The photographic record we do have is so replete with scenes of malingering, falsity, staged melodrama, as well as a casual drill-by-rout defocus, that much now needs disproving before the myth of the wound to America's mighty warriors could ever serve again as justification for the abomination of retaliation which followed.
At least Sepulveda has the grace not to smile while he is being pinned, nor is he seen availing himself of the comfort of the shade tent erected in the middle of the highway just hours after the surprise attack, nor does he hold his cup like a wine glass at a garden party. Perhaps these are the symbols of the new American heroism. His shirt always remains neatly tucked in too.