As new military leadership takes over in the Pentagon and the nation debates which policies it should adopt to keep it safe, one priest remembers the day when, more than 15 years ago, he experienced the effects of Islamic terrorism firsthand.

Fr. Aidan Logan, OCSO, is a Cistercian monk who served as a U.S. Navy chaplain from 1991 to 2010. Today, he is Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of the Military Services. He was in Washington, D.C. for a priest’s meeting on September 11, 2001, when he heard the Pentagon had been attacked. He headed to the Pentagon with a priest-friend and encountered a large crowd on its grounds, many family members of Pentagon workers concerned about their loved ones. He recalled observing the Pentagon from a distance: “You could see the tree line and lamp posts sliced off, and trace the trajectory of the incoming aircraft.”

Chaplains were dispatched for casualty assistance calls: visiting family members of the dead, injured and missing to inform their relatives. He recalled, “There was so much confusion that first night that our chaplains would arrive at a home to inform its residents that a relative was missing, only to find him sitting there at home on the couch.”

On the “hot and dusty” next day, Fr. Logan assisted at a temporary morgue set up on the Pentagon grounds, saying prayers over the dead. The recovery efforts were slow, as the damaged building needed to be stabilized before the bodies of the victims could be retrieved.

Father recalled that the structure’s stone and glass had melted from the intense heat of the burning jet fuel the day before. He further recalled that many of the dead had died not from the impact of the aircraft and subsequent explosion and fire, but from asphyxiation, as the fire sucked the oxygen from the air.

He ministered to many over the few days he was there, often firemen and other rescue workers who needed “human contact and someone with whom to talk.” Being a military chaplain is different than other types of chaplaincies, he said, because “you’re going through the same things others are going through, accompanying them through difficult situations. It’s what a military chaplain does.”

Father continued, “Everyone was stunned. They didn’t know who had done this or why.”

Yet rescuers did not exhibit anger or rage, but “a quiet determination to deal with the situation at hand.”

One memento of the day Fr. Logan brought home was the shoes he was wearing. He put them in his closet and did not touch them for a year; they were covered with dust and retained “the stench of burning human flesh.” He continued, “The smell is my most vivid memory of that day.”

Yet despite having to experience the ugliness of 9/11 firsthand, he is glad he was on hand to minister to those in need. Fr. Logan said, “I’m grateful for God’s providence for putting me there, allowing me to do the little good I was able to do.”