Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Birdwell CNN Interview

Military Family Goes Through Process of Healing
Aired December 15, 2001 - 15:52 ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: For many of those injured September 11, the healing has been a slow and painful process. Many survivors talk of gaining strength through faith and through family. CNN's Jonathan Aiken is back again with one such story.


JONATHAN AIKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell was watching television in his Pentagon office the morning of September 11.

LT. COL. BRIAN BIRDWELL, PENTAGON SURVIVOR: My morning Coke had kicked in, and I had to go to the men's room right after we watched the plane go into -- the second plane hit the tower.

AIKEN: He never made it back.

B. BIRDWELL: I was returning. I had only had taken three, four steps out of the rest room, and then the explosion and the concussion had occurred.

AIKEN: American Airlines Flight 77 had just crashed into the Pentagon. He was 40 yard away.

B. BIRDWELL: I heard the sound, then the concussion knocked me down, and that's when the fireball comes through. I do not recall seeing fire coming at me, whether I was laying on my back or otherwise. I remember -- I am trying to get to my feet to get up, and I'm on fire.

AIKEN: As the first alarms were sounded, Colonel Birdwell fought to stand up and get back to his office.

B. BIRDWELL: As I struggled -- I mean, I didn't wait to call out to my Lord and Savior, I, you know, I because I knew I was in bad shape. And without, you know, God's help, I was not going to get out of here. But I, you know, cried "Jesus, I am coming to see you."

Mel Birdwell was home-schooling their 12-year-old son Matthew when a friend called her and told her a plane had hit the Pentagon.

MEL BIRDWELL, WIFE OF PENTAGON SURVIVOR: So I knew that if he were in his office, that he was standing at the Throne of God, because there is just no way he could have survived it. Because where the plane hit was three windows from his window, from where his desk was.

AIKEN: While plumes of smoke rose from the Pentagon, Brian Birdwell collapsed under a corridor sprinkler, which doused the flames that had burned almost half of his body. He wound up at Washington Hospital's burn unit, tended to by his wife, and Dr. James Jeng, a burn specialist and Navy reservist who himself would be on call for military duty by the end of the day.

DR. JAMES JENG, WASHINGTON HOSPITAL: They attacked the Pentagon. These are my fellow soldiers and sailors, and so from that point of view, yeah, it's a big deal.

AIKEN: And so was a visit from President Bush two days after the attack.

M. BIRDWELL: And the president comes in, and he says, "Colonel Birdwell," and he salutes. And he -- Brian attempts to return the salute, and the president sees that he is returning the salute, and he stands there and he holds his salute with tears in his eyes.

AIKEN: After months of therapy, Lieutenant Colonel Birdwell wears compression gloves that reduce the scarring, protect his hands, and make it hard to use a fork.

B. BIRDWELL: My mom used to teach, you know, how you hold your fork between your middle and forefinger to, you know, to eat properly. Well, now I have to stab, you know, like some untrained or ill- mannered person, and so it looks like I don't have any manners, but I got to do it to eat, so.

AIKEN: Therapy has helped. So has their faith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lieutenant Colonel Birdwell and his wife Mel are here with us this morning.

AIKEN: The Birdwells went to church on Thanksgiving, but it was the congregation that gave them thanks.

REV. MICHAEL EASLEY, IMMANUEL BIBLE CHURCH: These are the finest people I have ever known in my life. Men and women who serve our country and who love Christ are a very unique combination.

AIKEN: Out of the hospital now and home for Christmas, the Birdwells begin to rebuild their lives. The memories will no doubt linger, and under those gloves will be scares that could take years to heal. And on Christmas, their faith will bring them to the meaning of the holiday, and the holiday will bring them back to the normalcy they crave so much.

M. BIRDWELL: Spending the day together.

B. BIRDWELL: Football.

M. BIRDWELL: And football.

AIKEN: Jonathan Aiken, for CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)


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