This article, written by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jarad A. Denton, was originally published by Army.mil. Below is the first part. I encourage you to follow the link to read the conclusion on how Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford Bauman survived suicide and eventually did get to save three lives eight years after the terrorist attacks.
JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Each year when the nation collectively remembers the attacks of 9/11, Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Clifford Bauman tries everything possible to forget. But the memories of being in the attack on the Pentagon are too vivid to forget.
“There was stuff floating everywhere,” Bauman said, as he described his journey through knee-deep water into the Pentagon’s outermost ring, the E-corridor. “We made our way back around between C- and B-corridor and saw where the nose of the aircraft detached and shot through the building.”
Immediately the team stepped outside, set up equipment designed to locate active cell phones and went to work searching for signals.
“Once we started pinging, I re-entered the building, crawling,” he said. “We were there all day and into the night, looking for people – eighteen hours and no survivors — not one.”
Looking back at what he did — what he forced himself to do – Bauman said there was only one word to describe everything he experienced.
“Horrific,” he said. “Seeing your fellow soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines lying dead in an area where you would think it was impossible, was hard to deal with.”
Even though Bauman had steeled himself to seeing the remains of fallen service members and comrades, he continued to work through the night. The painful reality began to fester inside him like a cancerous wound.
“When I went home, I really didn’t talk about it,” he said. “I took my uniform off and threw it in the wash. I took my boots, gloves and hat off and stuck them in a box – they’re still in that box to this day.”
For Bauman, the shutdown was automatic. He would discuss general details, but never mention the bodies. He would never talk about the sights, sounds and smells from the flooded hallways and burned-out corridors that stayed buried deep inside his soul like a cancer, slowing eating away at him.
“I didn’t talk about it,” he said quietly.
A year after he put those memories away, Bauman felt them bubble to the surface as he read the stories and personal accounts printed in the Washington Post. One particular article caught his eye: a letter, written by a son whose mother had died at the Pentagon.
“I had found her body when I was searching through the wreckage,” he said, swallowing a lump in his throat.
From that moment, Bauman’s life entered a downward spiral into darkness.
“I felt guilty,” he said. “I wasn’t able to find anyone alive. When I would go to sleep at night I would have vivid dreams about what I saw — what I crawled through.”
Nights were the worst, as Bauman was relentlessly tormented by his own memory. During the day, tired and exhausted from restless and intermittent sleep, Bauman tried to find solace at the bottom of a bottle.
“As you start going down that road, things change inside you,” he said. “People started noticing there was something different about me, even though I didn’t see it within myself.”
The more differently people began to treat Bauman, the more stressed he became. That stress permeated every aspect of his life — including relationships with his family.
“My family knew something was wrong,” he said, “but I couldn’t explain to them what was wrong. I couldn’t express it.”
This vicious cycle was propagated when those close to him tried to reach out to Bauman, which only caused him to withdraw further.
As time dragged on, Bauman withdrew more and more. He internalized his feelings and memories, lying to counselors and hiding the post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, he would later be diagnosed with. Weeks turned to months as Bauman said the stress and guilt he felt became “poison” in his veins.
“I didn’t have an outlet for the stress I was feeling because I wasn’t talking to my psychologist about how I truly felt,” he said. “I just wanted to get the counseling over with because I was fearful for my military career.”
With his days spent worrying over his future in the Army, and his nights spent in torment, Bauman decided he needed to get away for the Christmas season and returned home to Kansas City, Mo. Unfortunately, home was where he felt the entire weight of the world crash down upon him.
“To this day, I have no idea what triggered it,” Bauman said. “I was alone at my brother’s house when an overwhelming sense of guilt came over me. Everything I had been dealing with just built up all at once, and I didn’t want to deal with it anymore.”
Life, Bauman said, had become too much for him to handle. Slowly, almost robotically, he penned a note on a napkin.
“I didn’t want to live with the guilt of not finding anybody alive,” he said. “I told everybody I loved them, then took 20 sleeping pills and laid on the couch.”
The next time Bauman opened his eyes, he was lying in a hospital bed a mile from where he tried to take his own life.
Bauman’s brother – a nurse at the hospital who had found him unconscious and rushed him in for care – was there at his bedside.
…. Please read the rest of Bauman’s survival story and how he finally got to save three lives in October 2009.