FORT KNOX, Ky. – As a retired colleague told the story of how fire truck Foam 161 was damaged on Sept. 11, 2001, Mark Skipper examined the charred remains of the vehicle, cut a grin and expressed amazement that the crew lived through the terrorist attack.
That day at the Pentagon forged a special friendship between Skipper, who works at Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington, Tenn., and now-retired firefighters Al Wallace and Dennis Young, who spent the day of the terror attack sifting through rubble and helping people escape the burning military headquarters.
"It's been hard to come back and see this, but I've got my friends here," Skipper told The Associated Press. "It's just a personal bond."
The three men reunited Tuesday at Fort Knox to see one another for a rare time and view their former truck for the first time in 12 years. The truck, with its rear driver's side still charred and melted, is going on display at the Gen. George S. Patton Museum and Center of Leadership at Fort Knox.
Patton Museum Curator Nathan Jones said the truck will be part of an exhibit highlighting leadership issues that arose from the attacks. The exhibit is part of a retooling of the museum that will eventually feature interactive displays, including Skipper, Wallace and Young speaking about working at the Fort Myer Fire Station on the Pentagon grounds the day of the attacks.
Jones said he had been seeking something from Sept. 11 for the exhibit when the truck became available.
"There's a lot of great lessons in it," Jones said. "I swooped in and snatched it up."
Foam 161 will be one of two damaged trucks on display at the Patton Museum. A third truck is slated for display in New York City in the future.
The exhibit will be at a military post with multiple 9/11 connections. The Human Resources Command on the post is named for Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude, who died in the attacks. Also, Garrison Commander T.J. Edwards worked at the Pentagon and heard the attack.
"Emotionally, you say, 'Why?'" said Edwards, who can rattle off a list of colleagues and friends who died that day. "I've always been upset about it. Now, it's personal."
The three firefighters stay in regular contact and see one another periodically. Wallace, the truck driver on the day of the attacks, is the storyteller of the bunch. Wallace described how he, Skipper and Young saw the plane and heard the crash from the Fort Myer Fire Station just yards from the west side of the Pentagon.
"It's a wonder Skipper and I weren't cut to shreds," said Wallace, who lives near Columbus, Ohio.
While Skipper periodically needled Wallace about his penchant for telling the Sept. 11 story, Young, who lives in eastern West Virginia, mostly stayed quiet, a bit awed by seeing the truck again and having the memories of the day. But, Young said, witnessing and making it through the attacks helped solidify a bond between the men that came with being firefighters.
The day was an emotional one for all three men.
"These are just incredible people," Wallace said of his colleagues as he walked around the truck. "Incredible."
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