MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Larry McTighe is one of those guys that enjoys sports. He was thrilled during his tour in the military to get a job as a sports photographer with an emphasis on Nascar — something the Air Force sponsored but that also meant the Minnesota native had an office, at the Pentagon in September of 2001.
“I loved it,” he said. “Fantastic. I did it for 25 years. I photographed everyone from Richard Petty to Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, I mean, and I was a team photographer for the Wood brothers. When they won the Daytona 500 this year, that was, Celeste and I were screaming in the basement.”
But his office was in the Pentagon and on Sept. 11, he was there when he heard and felt the shake. A shake that would forever change his life.
“There was a loud shake in the building, like an earthquake,” he said. “We had talked to some folks who had actually seen the fireball come down the hallway. We knew of some people who had fallen down the escalator but we didn’t know it was a plane. It was a loud explosion.”
Thus began a journey, not knowing what had happened and with two elderly colleagues searching for safety from what they did not know. They only thing that was clear was there was urgency.
“The emergency rescue vehicles started coming, the smoke was pouring out over the Pentagon. We realized it was something disastrous that had happened,” McTighe said. “At that point, they were starting to tell everyone to get away from the Pentagon because there was another plane inbound. At that point, we had to go about half a mile away, had to climb over barricades to get away … and finally got to the Mall.”
They were in the middle of history and it was not good. They could hear emergency vehicles and personnel everywhere, ad-libbing and hoping. But it was not always with the results they desired.
“We did know some folks in the Air Force security police that were right behind us in our office. They went out to try and rescue people and they had … one of my friends that worked in there said they had some instances where they couldn’t get to people and that was the hardest thing that they could do,” McTighe said. “They weren’t able to rescue some of the people in the Pentagon.”
When McTighe’s group finally found safety, they had to let their loved ones know — loved ones that had known McTighe was inside and did not know the outcome.
“It was very emotional. My sister started crying because no one had heard from me at all. They knew I was in the affected area of the Pentagon. My wife, Celeste, was at an off-site conference about 10 miles away. She was on the top floor and could see smoke rising from the building and they told them the newly renovated part of the Pentagon had been hit and she knew that’s where I was at,” he said. “And because I was a photographer, I could be anywhere at the Pentagon.”
When he reviewed it later, he realized how close the plane had come to his office.
“That was probably 50 yards from the office,” he said. “I mean, again, like I said, people say 50 yards isn’t that close but it is when there’s a plane barreling down on you and you don’t know what the jet fuel and what’s going to take place.”
He and his wife Celeste moved back to Minnesota, in part because of the fear of a repeat attack and in part because, like many, they had re-adjusted their priorities.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about 9/11,” he said. “I’m different because we moved back to Minnesota to be closer to family. I think you appreciate family more when you have an incident like this. They’re the ones in your heart that mean the most, friends and family and your loved ones.”
McTighe now works at the vets hospital in Minneapolis. He thought about it, but decided not to return to
Washington, D.C. this weekend for the memorial service.