- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

Allyn Kilsheimer's eyes have seen death, but they are very much alive. They dart around and stare intensely. They squint with incredulity. And, sometimes, they well up with tears. Mr. Kilsheimer has seen a lot since September 11. But the one thing he has been paid to see and help oversee is a certain five-sided building rising from the ashes of destruction.
He is the man some call insane; the driven, brash and often profane structural engineer who has headed the engineering and design of the Phoenix Project, the $700 million effort to rebuild the Pentagon after terrorists attacked it on a Tuesday morning nearly one year ago.
This week, standing in the shadows of the Pentagon's fourth corridor and wearing a pink hard hat a statement to the government officials who kept insisting that he wear one against his wishes Mr. Kilsheimer points to where American Airlines Flight 77 tore its way through hard limestone walls, and the heart of a nation. Stroking his thick black and white beard, he points to where the jetliner hit, killing 184 airplane passengers and military and civilian workers, and five hijackers. He points to where fire and heat caused walls to crumble and steel to melt.
He points to a perfect new wall, completely rebuilt less than a year after it was destroyed.
"This building is an historic building," he said. "We promised we would replicate it exactly."
Mr. Kilsheimer, along with about 3,000 people working day and night, kept their promise, completing in under 12 months what should have been a three-year job. All that's left to be done, he said, is simple work, such as laying down carpet or painting some walls. His job as engineer is essentially finished. The new walls have been tested and are stronger than those they replaced.
No one ordered Mr. Kilsheimer to have the project done by Sept. 11 this year, but he made that declaration early on. On the day of the attack, a senior military officer, looking in disbelief at the damage, asked what could possibly be done.
"I said 'I don't know what you can do, but I can bring this place back in a year,'" Mr. Kilsheimer said. "People thought I was crazy."
But people also knew he was one of the world's best at his job.
Before September 11, Mr. Kilsheimer was known as a man who could look at a damaged structure and gauge whether it could be saved or whether it needed to be knocked down and rebuilt. As founder and president of KCE Inc., a structural engineering firm in the District, he had been all over the world climbing in and around buildings, testing the strength of steel, stone and concrete. He had seen the damage caused to the World Trade Center in 1993 and the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City two years later.
On the morning of September 11, he watched on televisions from his office as smoke poured from the upper floors of the World Trade Center towers in New York. Every one of his office phone lines was blinking. But he told the people in New York that he wasn't going to come.
"I told them I couldn't help them, because their buildings were falling down," he said. No one believed him at the time, but he was tragically right.
Minutes later, tragedy struck his own back yard. After hearing that a plane had hit the Pentagon, his phone lit up again, and this time, he was gone.
"As an American, it's personal," he said. "But here, it's even more personal."
Ron Vermillion, vice president of construction for AMEC, the contractor in charge of the Pentagon reconstruction, requested Mr. Kilsheimer's services immediately after the attack, knowing that he was the engineer for the job.
"One of the things we knew we needed were answers to questions on the spot," Mr. Vermillion said. "He understood the sense of urgency in getting questions answered. We chose him to be the guy early on. Allyn is a contractor's engineer."
The plane that hit the Pentagon came in at more than 400 miles per hour, filled with jet fuel. Fires blazed for hours after the crash, and, by nightfall, Mr. Kilsheimer and an army of engineers and construction workers were left to determine what could be saved and what needed to be torn down.
The efforts to save the building were simultaneous with the efforts to find survivors. Mr. Kilsheimer's most difficult moment came as he surveyed the crash scene the night after the attack.
"The hardest part for me was standing there with two skeletons on my left and two dead bodies on my right, and realizing what people can do to other people," he said.
Some service members, military police and other workers that night left and never returned. Mr. Kilsheimer stayed, and worked the next eight days straight, not stopping to sleep, and eating and drinking only when urged by Salvation Army workers.He broke his toe but kept working until it became gangrenous and needed to be partially cut off.
Mr. Kilsheimer has averaged 16- to 20-hour workdays, seven days a week, since September 11. He arrives at his office by 4 a.m., meets construction team leaders, architects and other workers at 6 a.m. at the site. He arrives home at 8 p.m., goes to bed around 10 p.m., but is usually up again at midnight.
The workers helping to rebuild the Pentagon, most of them AMEC employees, have worked almost as much. In the weeks after the attacks, many slept in trailers on the Pentagon site, going days without seeing their families. Inside a trailer at the site hangs a sign that reads: "Quit, Hell!" The group adopted the slogan "Let's Roll" from Todd Beamer, one of the men believed to have fought the hijackers of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.
"We used to tell people on holidays not to come," Mr. Kilsheimer said. "But 300 people would show up anyhow. And it's not about the money, it's about the challenge."
The son of two Jewish parents who fled Nazi Germany and died when he was a boy, Mr. Kilsheimer, 62, said he learned to be tough growing up. He found work as a teen-ager in an engineering firm and later graduated from George Washington University. Almost 40 years and $70 billion worth of business later, Mr. Kilsheimer's toughness has helped heal a nation.
After memorial proceedings on September 11, Mr. Kilsheimer will take some time off to enjoy his hobby restoring old cars and to spend some quality time with his wife and first granddaughter, who was born Sept. 9 last year.
"Right now, I'm not afraid of anything," he said. "To be given the honor of doing this and pulling it off it's just a huge thing."


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