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Top Topics since Sept 27, 2001

Marine photographer aids FBI in rescue efforts



Marine photographer aids FBI in rescue efforts

Article was originally posted on the Marinelink website.

Submitted by: Headquarters Marine Corps Story Identification Number: 2001924115130 Story by Lance Cpl. John R. Lawson, III


-- On the now notorious date of Sept. 11, 2001, Sgt. Marshall Paull was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but then he put himself in the right place at the right time.


As the photographer for the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James L. Jones, Sgt. Paull works on a side of the Pentagon adjacent to the side that terrorists attacked with a hijacked Boeing 757. Sergeant Paull was far enough away from the impact to be safe, but close enough to feel "as if somebody fired a Howitzer into the building." Even 10 days after the attack, the smell of burnt aviation fuel hangs in the office air.

Once he had safely evacuated from the building, he took the initiative and put himself where he could be useful. In the immediate aftermath, he helped rescue workers pull survivors from the burning portion of the Pentagon. Next, he spent several days working hand-in-hand with the FBI as a volunteer crime scene photographer.

"I wanted to help whatever way I could," said the native of Maryville, Tenn.

Sergeant Paull recalls watching TV news that fateful morning after terrorists crashed a hijacked plane into the first building of the World Trade Center. "My first impression was that I thought an aircraft was off course," he said.

Shortly thereafter, another hijacked plane crashed into the second building of the World Trade Center. The images on TV were unmistakable to Sgt. Paull, who thought to himself, "This is no accident; this is a terrorist attack."

Sergeant Paull went back to his office, and someone said, "At least it didn't hit the Pentagon." Almost on cue, there was a thunderous noise and alarms went off inside the building. "Immediately I knew what had happened," he said.

In the urgency of the evacuation, Sgt. Paull left behind his wallet and many other belongings. Fortuitously, he instinctively grabbed his camera as he exited the office.

After getting outside the building, Sgt. Paull headed directly to the crash site. He helped rescue workers carry out survivors. Twice during the rescue efforts, Sgt. Paull and those working with him were ordered to take cover because of concerns that another hijacked plane might attack the Pentagon.

The rescue work continued, but soon firefighters delivered the grim news that there was no one left to save.

During his time at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Sgt. Paull had the unfortunate duty of photographing a few aviation accidents. When he saw FBI agents arriving at the Pentagon, he told them of his experience and said he would be willing to help.

They took him up on his offer, and soon put him in a helicopter to take overhead pictures of the damage to the Pentagon.

On the Wednesday and Friday following the attack, Sgt. Paull assisted FBI agents by actually entering the devastated segment of the Pentagon to search for bodies. It was Sgt. Paull's task to take photographs.

Wearing rubber boots, a protective suit, a respirator filter, goggles, and a hard hat, he went into what can only be described as an apocalyptic scene.

It was hot, some fires were still burning, and at times the rubble was waist-high. The sights were grim - "unlike anything I've ever seen," he said.

"It was bad," he continued, saying it would be inappropriate to go into detail. "These guys didn't have a chance."

In addition to being "horrific and overwhelming," there was a surreal quality about the devastation because it was often possible to see what routine tasks the victims were doing when their lives ended.

In 90 minutes, Sgt. Paull and his team members recovered six bodies. "I had seen enough that day," he said.

Friday was no less chilling, as Sgt. Paull and his fellow team members recovered six bodies in an hour. Reflecting on what the terrorists did, Sgt. Paull said, "I want to get in battle with these people."

Replays on the news only add to his desire to administer some justice. "Every time I see these atrocities it makes me very angry, and I want to fight."


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