Friday, August 10, 2007

Master Sergeant Noel Sepulveda, USAF: Hero Rescuer

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.

15 comments:

  1. Steven, the guy with the double chin getting the purple heart (Master Sergeant Noel Sepulveda?) does not look anything like that strapping young lad in the picture with Garcia and the unidentified man. Please double check the source. Or maybe it's his son or another Supulveda?

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    1. That's my friend Noel Sepulevda on the right. I was there on that day of 911. Great man. He gave 110% that day. I remember his AF blues were all burned up and torn when he was finished that day. I'd never seen him like that before. God Bless him.

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  2. Steven,

    I understand how that one picture could be misconstrued, as these men having a “light hearted moment, but I can assure you nothing could be further from the truth. SMSgt. Sepulveda, suffered a subdural hematoma, from the impact of that day, the gruesome Images he witness that day had a profound effect on not only his life but his career. SMSgt. Sepulveda devoted 39 years of service 28 active and 11 reserves to the US Air force. He is a combat wounded Vietnam veteran that has continued to serve his country in every major US conflict since that time, until the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon, he was forced into medical retirement due to the buildup of injuries he received while serving over three decades. The reason for my bias is because I know SMSgt. Sepulveda personally. I am his eldest son of five children. Sir I agree that everything that happens deserves a critical eye, and a thorough investigation but it is unfair to make assertions without at least talking to the person you are criticizing in your article. The garbage he has dealt with after being forced to retire is more than enough to make someone go postal, so I would appreciate it if you would at least contact my father and get the low down, before you make assumptions based on a picture.

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  3. Well, first off, thank you very much for your comment---you have to be the most civilized commenter to this blog that I've ever had the pleasure of responding to. The fact that you are intimately involved in the matter makes your tone even more impressive.

    I take it from your "light hearted moment" remark that you are, in fact, confirming that the figure in that image is of your father. There has always been some doubt about the identification.

    I would be fascinated to speak at length with your dad about his experiences on 9/11. I'm sorry that his experiences since then have been so poor.

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  4. I just want to say (even though this is an old post) that I had the privelege of working with Master Sgt. Sepulveda after the 9/11 incident. He is a very gentle, shumble, soft-spoken man with more courage and integrity that you could ever hope to have. He was tremendously screwed over after leaving the service. After experiencing a hematoma on 9/11 and injuring his back, he was given a medical retirement. This was Noel's second purple heart by the way. His first was during Vietnam, when he was shot down in a helicopter. The man spent 39 years in service to this country, and they left him out to dry when he retired. I had to work tirelessly to get the VA and DOD to unscrew his paperwork and get him his retirement and disabilty income. He was homeless and sleeping on his son's couch until we were able to light the fire under his congressional representative to "encourage" the VA / DoD to do their job. -That is the reality. Maybe you should get a dose more often. Prick.

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  5. I thought about it for a good while before posting anything on the page. I had the great honor and pleasure of working with Msgt Noel Sepulveda in the days following the Pentagon Attacks. I even spent time as a guest in his home. He and I spent nearly every moment together working the Pentagon Crash Site and I always found him to be honest, well trained and someone that I could rely on as a partner health provider during that mess! I , myself shall never be the same following the experiance of spending my 43rd birhtday (13 Septemeber) in such a Hell Hole. I'm just very glad that I had Noel to work with as someone that I could trust in such changing and chaotic operation. Gerald Scott Flint, USAF RET , Director , Volunteer Medics Worldwide, www.volunteermedics.org email volmedics.org 812-691-6240

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  6. This man my be a nice guy. But, he LIED about being a USAF PARARESCUEMAN in Airman Magazine. He should be ashamed after serving 39 years in the Air Force. Thank God we still of real deal PJ's that served in Vietnam still around to expose guys like this.

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    1. The magazine gets it wrong sometimes. The news once called me an Air Force engineer working at the cape when in fact I was a Reserve AF officer working at the Cape as a CF programmer. Once it's published it's too late. That always bothered me. I worked with Noel at the Pentagon. He and I are close friends. He worked as an IMA in the personnel office of XPXT. His real AFSC was in the medical field. When we got hit, he sprung into action and saved many lives. I am so honored to have worked with him and to know him.

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  7. The rank insignia of the middle person in the photo is Colonel (06) not an enlisted Msgt. Clearly visible in the zoom shot.

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  8. The fact that Msgt Sepulveda LIED about being an Air Force Pararescueman is enough grounds to question ALL of his other assertions. As a 20 year Air Force Pararescueman (retired) and the father of a current combat veteran pararescueman, I find it entirely appropriate that you question
    Brian Trubee
    USAF Pararescue 1979-1999

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  9. The fact that Msgt Sepulveda LIED about being an Air Force Pararescueman is enough grounds to question ALL of his other assertions. As a 20 year Air Force Pararescueman (retired) and the father of a current combat veteran pararescueman, I find it entirely appropriate that you question his assertions.
    Brian Trubee
    USAF Pararescue 1979-1999

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  10. Senior Master Sergeant Noel Sepulveda claims a being thrown against telephone pole just hours before this picture with sufficient force to knock him unconscious and to cause discovery the mechanism-of-injury also resulted in a subdural hematoma that was discovered and diagnosed a month and about two weeks after the trauma event. Yet apparently he also claims continuous duties without leaving on 11 September 2001 and on 12 September 2001 until about 2030 when he was apparently order to go home. He then gets on his motorcycle and rides it home. (Amazing and unbelievable if he had a subdural hematoma injury as claimed).

    A traumatic blunt force mechanism of injury of sufficient force to cause a subdural hematoma injury is generally be sufficient to cause a severe concussion if not a fracture of the skull of some sort. He claims he lost consciousness and had or experienced a knot on the back of his head, throbbing headache symptoms, and high blood pressure and vision difficulties. His physical bearing appearance and attention to surroundings expression on his face captured by picture do not show any attention to detail and doing duties impairment.

    Subdural hematoma indicates bleeding below the bony skull most often in the space between the arachnoid and dura mater, it is general considered a serious head injury. A traumatic mechanism of injury causing such is much more than simply “a probable pinched vien” and a nontraumatic cause would be high blood pressure combined with a circulation disease contributing to an aneurism failure of a vein or artery of some sort (typically what results is a stroke as it actually happen in the brain rather than between the brain and the inner surface of the skull). Subdural hematoma indicates bleeding is general considered a serious life threatening head injury. The simple explanation is blood is pooling on the surface of the brain and most often surgery is required to reduce pressure on the brain and to stop (control the bleeding).

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  11. The assertion of Senior Master Sergeant Noel Sepulveda being combat wounded Vietnam veteran lacks documentation in his official military records backing it up.

    His fabricated combat heroics story published numerous times since September 2001 of --being a combat medic performing frequent duties on Army helicopters during the Vietnam conflict is untrue.

    His story of being the only survivor of an Army UH-1 medevac or dust-off UH-1 helicopter downed by mortar rounds is a complete fabrication. Nothing of this story is true. His story of being his being there involvement experience at the Beirut Lebanon Bombing (Marine Barracks-October 1983) nothing more than imagined being there contributing efforts and experience.

    The 822nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron, now supposedly called the 920th Rescue Wing, at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla is another mysterious unit designation having no discoverable activation, deactivation date, or even deployed Desert Shield/Storm operating location. It appears to be as inaccurate unit designation as the 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry claimed to be the unit owning the helicopters he was flying on in Vietnam.

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  12. 1st of all the light hearted moment photo. I will assume you have no experience identifying military rank. The man in the middle of the picture is a Col. Noel is a Msgt. So it is not him in the picture As for his membership in the 920th RQW at Patrick AFB I can Confirm it. I was his Supervisor. The unit is a reserve unit. it started out as a detachment as the 21 MSES, than became the 21st APSS, than the 822 ASS than the 920 RQG and than the 920 RQW...and it is still at Patrick AFB. It should not be hard to find. It is the most decorated RQW in the Air Force. As far as his injuries it is really non of your or anyone else's business. He was there, he was injured ...what did you do to help on 9/11....I mean really you must have something else to do? Guess not! And since you have never met Noel I will guess all of your facts are hear-say or second hand?

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  13. MSgt Sepulveda is the man in the center of the photo at the top of this article.

    The rank on the individual is that if an Air Force Master Sergeant. Also, since I worked with him in an Air Force office that was located in Rosslyn VA--relocated there due to the massive Pentagon renovation project--I know the picture is of him.

    I last saw Noel in 2005 at the Bethesda Naval Hospital where he was beening attended to for severe lung problems caused by the vapors he inhaled as he rescued people from the Pentagon immediatley after the plane crashed into the building.

    Shame on anyone who discounts his heroic actions on Sep 11, 2001.

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