- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Washington Times, in a special section commemorating the first anniversary of September 11, profiled three men and two women who survived the attack on the Pentagon. They agreed to update their stories for a series, After the Fire, this week marking the fifth anniversary.

Fourth of five parts

A small white box tucked neatly in the cubbyhole of Pentagon police Officer George E. Clodfelter III’s desk contains a dozen or so photographs of things that happened that day.

They look like snapshots from a nightmare.

There’s one of a melted telephone. Another shows a clock with brown burn marks, the hands frozen at 9:37, the exact time a hijacked airplane slammed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

The next shot shows Master Patrol Officer Clodfelter standing in the sun giving orders to two persons whose backs are to the camera. There’s a dark red splotch on his white uniform shirt.

“That blood,” he begins to say, but then stops as if someone has punched him in the throat.

A moment later, he adds: “She died in my arms, and that’s her blood.”

Five years have passed since Officer Clodfelter and 13 fellow members of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency plunged into the black smoke and flaming debris to save dozens — some burned beyond recognition — from the rubble in the moments after the attack.

Four years ago, when The Washington Times first profiled him on the first anniversary of September 11, Officer Clodfelter spoke graphically of pulling bloodied victims from the wreckage where 184 died.

He spoke of the many hours he spent with his wife of 33 years, Linda, at their kitchen table in the aftermath — talking, crying and trying to cope with the misery of what he and others endured that day.

“I call it the tape,” Officer Clodfelter said in 2002. “It runs in my mind. I don’t consciously run it.”

He described going through phases of fear, remorse and denial, and said at the time — one year after the attacks — that he was “in the anger phase.”

During follow-up interviews with The Times over the past month, Officer Clodfelter, 52, reflected on his remarks, saying those were phases he went through “in the beginning.”

“It levels out over time,” he says. “Time heals all wounds to a certain degree.”

While the passage of five years brought perspective, Officer Clodfelter says, certain things trigger a rush of painful emotions and memories.

“It’s like it happened yesterday when I go toward that side of the building. I can still smell it and the tape runs,” he says. “It smells like death.”

When asked to elaborate, Officer Clodfelter becomes quiet, then adds: “Those people that have smelled death know what it smells like. Leave it at that.”

Seeking peace

The biggest change for the Clodfelters since September 11 was their move in 2002 from their town house in the Washington suburb of Lake Ridge, Va., to a quaint gated community about 60 miles south in Ruther Glen, Va.

The bucolic road leading to their modest two-story home is manned by uniformed security guards who check every vehicle coming in to the subdivision.

“Our decision to move here was a direct response to 9/11,” Officer Clodfelter says. “I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t want [Linda] to get caught up in it if there was another catastrophe up there.”

Despite the relative peace they have found in their new home, Mrs. Clodfelter says that she and her husband still keep a “bug-out bag” packed with items such as canned goods and gas masks in case a catastrophe should occur.

Memories of September 11 line the underbelly of other aspects of their lives. A wall inside the home carries mementos that Officer Clodfelter neatly arranged during the past few years: A framed Medal for Valor from the Defense Department. A Cu Chullian award for dedication and valor, presented by the Irish Center of Washington, D.C. A limited-edition commemorative September 11 rifle.

But more personal and more graphic mementos, such as his box of photographs, remain hidden away.

“I’ve got a lot of it around here in boxes, and I just haven’t gotten around to sorting most of it because it’s still so painful,” Officer Clodfelter says.

He keeps another memento closer to his heart.

With memories fresh on the first anniversary of the attacks, he got a tattoo on his chest bearing the numerals 09-11-01 and depicting a bald eagle, wings spread as an American flag.

“It’s right above my heart,” Officer Clodfelter says, explaining that September 11 “is my Pearl Harbor” and the tattoo “is my devotion to the memory.”

His wife interjects: “I’d say it’s your own personal memorial.”

Passion, politics

A line from a speech by President Bush, written in elaborate calligraphy, is framed and mounted on a wall in the Clodfelters’ basement. The quote, from Oct. 7, 2001, when the president announced U.S. air strikes on Afghanistan, reads: “We will not waver; we will not tire; we will not falter; and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.”

Conversations with Officer Clodfelter four years ago centered on pain and memories; they now veer more easily toward politics.

“I’m very bitter about this,” he says, lighting a cigarette — a pack-a-day habit that hasn’t gone away since September 11.

“We’re in a time of war and the liberals are not supporting the nation and the troops,” Officer Clodfelter says. “George W. Bush has maintained his focus and he’s taken the fight to the enemy. What would the non-supporters and liberals be saying now if they’re going to their corner cafe to get their lattes and the corner blows up? Or the bus? Or the train? Or the Metro?

“These people want to kill us,” he says. “It’s not happening here because our people are doing their job.”

Pausing to stub out the cigarette in a small ashtray, Officer Clodfelter adds that he’s “very bitter about people like Hillary Clinton and this extreme left that has emerged with people like Cindy Sheehan,” the anti-war activist whose son was killed in Iraq.

“George W. Bush was gracious enough to meet with her and yet she kept on pounding on it after the left got ahold of her,” he says. “I understand a parent grieving and all, the pain of that, but her son signed on the dotted line. He volunteered to go into the military.”

‘Short memory’

Officer Clodfelter says his own two sons not only served in the military but were deployed to the Persian Gulf.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Michael Clodfelter, 34, served in the first Gulf war. In the aftermath of September 11, he was deployed to Iraq as a Seabee.

“I wouldn’t say I was worried,” Officer Clodfelter says. “But I was concerned. Any parent would be with their child going to a combat zone.”

His younger son, Alec, is a retired Army staff sergeant now working as a military contractor at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

Officer Clodfelter says he is more politically conservative today than he was four years ago, partially because “that just happens when you get older.”

He also becomes more frustrated with the public — conservatives and liberals alike — for not taking civic responsibilities seriously.

“We, as an American people, have a short memory,” Officer Clodfelter says. “Half the people don’t even know who their state senator is.”

He voiced similar sentiments four years ago, when he said “they should run that tape of the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on television channels every day before they go off the air.”

He says that view hasn’t changed.

“It should be six times a day now, because it’s going to happen again. You should put that in bold letters,” he says. “I blame the failed foreign policy of appeasement. This is why we’re here today. I also blame the terrorists.”

Closer to God

When asked whether he forgives the September 11 terrorists, Officer Clodfelter thinks for a long moment before responding: “I forgive them all, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

“I have pity for these people. Outright, unadulterated pity because they could be so blind to commit these acts and fall into their Islamic fascist rhetoric,” he says. “If you knew anything about the Koran, it says you shall not kill.”

During the past four years, Officer Clodfelter adds, he has thought more about religion and a relationship with God. While he doesn’t belong to a church, he speaks of an increased sense of faith.

“I don’t go to any organized religious environment,” Officer Clodfelter says. “I’m in touch with God in my own way. I pray and talk with God every day.”

Before September 11, he prayed irregularly. “I was lukewarm,” he says.

The years since have brought what Officer Clodfelter describes as intense reflection on morality and the afterlife.

“I think God tailor-makes heaven for each individual,” he says. “Now I talk to God every day for an hour on the drive to work. It is my belief that the only thing you need to follow is the Ten Commandments, and that all religions are on the right path.”

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