LANGLEY AFB, VA. –
Col. Kory Cornum, 1st Medical Group commander, was in the middle of a hair cut when he heard a plane hit the World Trade Center. At the time, he thought it was an accident, a small plane like a Cessna.
Then the second plane hit, and everything changed.
A surgeon at Fort McNair, only two miles from the Pentagon, Colonel Cornum saw smoke coming from the military headquarters and acted.
"There were about five or six of us, doctors and nurses," he said. "We gathered up all the medical stuff we had and drove over there. We got as close as we could and walked the rest of the way."
When Colonel Cornum's small group of medics arrived, they found they were some of the first medical personnel to arrive at the burning hole in the side of the Pentagon.
"We waited for casualties to come out on the side where it got hit," he said. "We were organizing a treatment area like what you see in exercises."
Over the next few hours, more doctors, nurses and medics from all over Washington, D.C., arrived to help.
"By two or three o'clock we had a large medical contingent out by the Pentagon," he said.
What Colonel Cornum didn't know at the time was that the Pentagon casualties were being evacuated through the inside of the building and away from the damaged area.
"We never saw a single casualty," he said.
Twice, however, the medics were fearful of becoming casualties themselves as they were twice evacuated from the area.
"We evacuated across Washington Blvd. because of a report of another inbound plane," he said. "There were all sorts of rumors about a plane hitting the State Department and the Capitol. We were out there without a clue."
Colonel Cornum said the damage at the area shocked him.
"There was not one molecule of an airplane left," he said. "It was really weird. The only thing to tell was a light post on Washington Blvd. that was chopped off by the airplane as it came in. It was amazing that anyone had done this."
As the senior Air Force officer on the scene, Colonel Cornum spent the next 24 hours sending reports to the command post. He said looking back is odd for him.
"There were Guard jets overhead," he said. "It was a weird thing that armed jets were flying over our capital. Now that I've flown some of those missions, it's interesting. I can point down and say, 'I was standing right there.'"
He also said he has taken what he's learned from the experience and applied it to crisis operations at the 1st Medical Group.
"No disaster will be like you planned it," he said. "You have to practice in generalities. You have to get familiar with the concept of chaos, get familiar with not knowing how many casualties there are. You are not going to know these things. You have to deal with the situation in front of you."
While many might look at Colonel Cornum's actions as heroic, he dismisses the idea.
"I didn't do anything," he said. "The people who died that day are the heroes. It sounds cheesy, but it's true. We were medics and we thought someone needed help. It's what medics do."