Father Aidan Logan and other members of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA were gathered at the Washington Retreat Center when the Sept. 11 attacks began. By happenstance, Father Logan was given the room with a television, and all the priests gathered there to watch the news. When they realized the scope of the attacks, their annual retreat quickly dissolved as the men headed back to their bases.
Father Logan had been a Trappist priest for six years when he joined the military archdiocese.
“I was giving retreats and I was always impressed by the military chaplains. They seemed the happiest and most enthusiastic, and they were always trying to recruit me,” he said. In 1991, Father Logan was commissioned as a lieutenant for the Navy Chaplain Corps. He served as a chaplain for a submarine school in Connecticut, aboard an aircraft carrier and abroad in Japan before being transferred to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 2001.
Instead of immediately returning to Camp Lejeune, Father Logan and another priest drove to the Pentagon. He recalls seeing the black smoke as they drove across the Potomac River on mostly empty roads. The sliced tree branches and lampposts revealed the path the plane had taken before crashing into the Pentagon. “Both the glass and the stone were melted like icing,” he said.
Dozens of people had gathered there looking for information about family members or friends. For a few hours, he and others met with the people and encouraged them to return home. That night, Father Logan went to the Navy Yard in Washington. “I spent the evening briefing people on how to call the relatives of people who were dead or missing,” he said. It was a long evening without much sleep.
Fortunately, because many Pentagon workers simply fled the building after the attacks, several people assumed missing were actually safe. “In many cases, a team of chaplains and military people arrived (at their home) and the missing person was on the couch watching television,” he said.
The next day, he went to the Pentagon again and was assigned as the chaplain at the morgue. He prayed for the dead and with many of the first responders. “No one was complaining, no one was angry,” he said. “There was a sense of solidarity and sorrow at what had happened (and) they were determined to stay there as long as it took.”
Looking back 15 years later, Father Logan, now vocations director for the archdiocese, is struck by the ways the world has changed since then. “This is what Pearl Harbor felt like. (It) was a defining moment, especially if you’re in the military.”
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