Thousands of service members and civilians were working at the Pentagon on 9/11. Just 30 yards away, 140 infants and toddlers played at the Child Development Center when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the DoD Headquarters. At the daycare were the Born sisters: 3-year-old Hanna and 4-month-old Heather. Twenty years later, they’re both in uniform.
2nd Lt. Hanna Born graduated from the Air Force Academy and commissioned as an officer in 2019. Heather is a midshipman in the Naval Academy Class of 2023. Although Heather was too young to remember the events of 9/11, Hanna has some partial memories of the infamous day.
“I was in the daycare center playing and dancing with some of my classmates,” Hanna told CBS. “We were playing with those dance ribbons, and then the next thing I can remember was kind of being in the hallway.” Luckily, no children were killed or injured in the terror attack. The Child Development Center was housed in a separate building on the Pentagon campus across from where Flight 77 impacted. However, the daycare was closed in 2004 out of concern for the safety of the children.
Hanna remembers service members arriving to help the daycare workers – many of whom were elderly – evacuate the children. “I began to feel sensory overload, especially after exiting the building. Because that’s when you really saw just a groundswell of people coming out of the building,” she recalled. “Obviously, you had the noises from the fire alarms, you had basically every type of emergency vehicle, the sirens from that, and you had jets and helicopters from overhead making noise, and on top of that, just a really acrid smell from the burning jet fuel and smoke.” With the infants loaded and carried in cribs, all of the children were evacuated to a park next to the Potomac River.
The Born sisters’ parents, both of whom have military backgrounds, were not in the Pentagon during the attack. Their mother, retired Brig. Gen. Dana Born, was at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling while their father, a retired Marine, was previously stationed at the Pentagon. In the days following 9/11, their father took them to a hill overlooking the Pentagon to watch the recovery efforts and tried to explain what had happened to them.
Brig. Gen. Born says that Hanna spent hours drawing pictures of her experience, trying to understand what happened on 9/11. “We sat by her side the entire time to support and comfort her while also answering questions as she attempted to ‘process’ exactly what happened,” Born recounted to CBS. “The more she drew, the less anxious she appeared, since she was gradually piecing things together from that horrific day that was difficult for even adults to comprehend.”
In addition to spending their childhoods on military bases, the Born sisters were inspired by the courage and heroism shown on 9/11 and followed their parents into the military. “There’s been so many lives that have been forever changed by the events of that day and everything that has ensued afterwards, so I think for us, it’s just constantly about remembering and figuring out what we can do to best honor them,” Hanna said.
In 2008, a memorial was dedicated on the Pentagon campus to the victims of the attack. One hundred and eighty four benches were erected with the names of the people killed that day. The benches are arranged by the victims’ ages; from 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg to 71-year-old Navy veteran John Yamnicky, both of whom were passengers on Flight 77. Surrounding the memorial is the Age Wall which grows one inch each year, relative to the ages of the victims. Eighty five Crape Myrtle trees were also planted among the benches when the memorial was dedicated.
The Born sisters recently visited the memorial to the event that had such an enormous impact on their lives. “When we had moved away from D.C., the trees were pretty small that they planted, and since then they’ve grown, so it’s just kind of striking to see how much life is rising in that area,” Hanna said. Although the memorial is usually open to the public 24/7, it is currently closed and will reopen once the Pentagon resumes public tours.