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Chaplain offered solace at Pentagon on 9/11

May 26, 2017

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — Retired U.S. Army Col. Janet Horton displayed a mix of emotions as she sat at her dining room table and reflected on her 28 years in the military. Horton frowned over the multiple rejections she faced after being commissioned to the chaplaincy. She smiled at the way God worked good out of all the negativity. And she wiped away tears as she talked about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when hijackers plowed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, killing 125 of her co-workers.

“You go back and to a degree you relive it all,” she said. “It was amazing to me to see God’s presence and love healing everything. Time after time, you see love in the face of hate.”

On the table before her lay a spread of graphic photos showing the aftermath of the attack. Horton paused now and then to regain her composure while pointing out places of significance — the site of the impact, the section of the building blocked by fire and debris, the center courtyard where the injured were laid out, the location of Horton’s office on the south side of the building, dangerously close to where the plane went in, and the dental office in the back where Horton had been called away for X-rays.

“They called me in that morning,” she said. “In order to be deployable, you had to have panoramic X-rays. They were supposed to be taken on my birthday, Aug. 11, but someone misplaced my file. I was waiting for them to release me when the first plane went into the towers. At 9:15, we were in front of the monitor watching the second plane hit. About 20 minutes later, somebody came running in and said we had to evacuate the building.”

Horton believes she would have been killed or seriously injured had she been sitting at her desk.

“When I got in my office the next day, big chunks of the ceiling were down on my desk and debris was everywhere,” she said. “My desk was a little way in, but my secretary’s desk was at the door. She felt the impact and saw the fireball coming toward her. She was able to run down the corridor ahead of the dust and debris. When the plane hit, there was so much fuel and it was burning so hot, the rescue workers had to go in from the back side and pull out people who were still alive.”

Within seconds after the attack, numerous acts of heroism began to unfold.

“What people did to save someone else was the most inspiring thing I ever saw,” Horton said. “One of the women was on fire. Three or four people saw her and took off their jackets and put them on her to smother it. You weren’t thinking about yourself at all. The thought was, what can I do to help the firemen or the next casualty? By late afternoon, the firemen had been working for hours and were hot and tired. Three of us broke into a concession stand. A two-star general got down on his knees and scraped up ice for them.”

The injured were moved to the courtyard first, then were transferred to ambulances outside the complex. Horton convinced the guards to let her and two other chaplains through the barricade to minister to the injured.

“We just knelt beside them,” she said. “Every one of them would cry immediately when we started to pray. More than anything, you’re making sure they know that God is with them and to have that sense of peace that they’re not alone.”

That same female chaplain who knelt and prayed with burned and battered victims at the Pentagon had endured harsh rejection during her first five years in the military. Trained for the chaplaincy at the Christian Science headquarters in Boston, Horton had earned a Master of Divinity degree and was commissioned by the Army as its third female chaplain in 1976.

“Multiple people told me I shouldn’t be there,” Horton said. “It was such an emotional issue at that time. Women were just being integrated in the military in the 1970s. Before that, women could be in the women’s auxiliary office as clerks and other support specialties, or they could join the nurses corps. When all the occupational positions were opened to them, this whole idea of women being officers — and then add in a chaplain — this was the birth of a new idea and some people had labor pains with it.”

Horton received death threats, nasty phone calls and was run off the road. When she was awarded two high-ranking awards, a male chaplain spit at her and told her she didn’t deserve them.

“My human reaction was a lot like a gas grill lighting up,” she said. “There are not too many things a person can do to you that are worse than spitting in your face. I instantly had to turn to God, and it was like a voice spoke to me, ‘The soldiers spit on Jesus.’ It just quenched the fire and I was no longer angry. I reached out and hugged him.”

Now 65, Horton is married to retired Lt. Col. Jeff Harvey. She has written a memoir, “Cracking the Camouflage Ceiling,” which was released in April and is available on www.hawthornepub.com.

“I’m not sure even the women today are accepted, there are so few of them,” she said. “Part of the reason I wrote that book was to help them too.”

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Information from: Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner, http://www.starbanner.com/

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