On Sept. 11, 2001, Elisa D’Antonio was at the Pentagon attending an Air Force training course.
A little before 9:30 a.m., someone wheeled a TV into the classroom, which was on the building’s south side. The TV flickered on to news coverage, where anchors were reporting that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
“They had just turned the tv on and were turning the volume up, and we caught a quick replay of New York,” D’Antonio said. “But, really, it hadn’t registered what was going on. The next thing you know, ka-boom, we heard it and felt it.”
American Airlines Flight 77 had crashed into the western side of the Pentagon. D’Antonio, 11 weeks pregnant at the time, could smell burning jet fuel. Police officers feared that another plane was on the way and were trying to get everyone out of danger as quickly as possible.
Sixteen years later, D’Antonio is the mom of an Eagle Scout and a volunteer who leads the Cub Scout Camping Committee for the Greater St. Louis Area Council. She recently recounted her harrowing experience to Christine Rasure, director of marketing and communications for the council. You can read Rasure’s full story here.
Dedicated to service
Ever since she was 12 or 13, D’Antonio wanted to be astronaut. Science and space fascinated her.
“I was overly serious in high school,” she told Rasure. “I was recruited by the service academies … but I wasn’t quite sure if that was what I wanted to do, so I never completed the application process.”
Rasure picks up the story from here:
At San Jose State, Elisa signed up for ROTC her second year. After the first couple of classes, she knew she had found her calling. Upon graduation, Elisa traveled to Del Rio, Texas, for pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base. After completing the yearlong program, she ended up flying a KC-135 — a 707 four-engine air refueling tanker.
Then, she flew a desk for four years, as she likes to say, before moving to D.C. for the Air Force Flight Standards Agency. When her husband retired from the Air Force, the family moved to Scott Air Force Base [25 miles east of downtown St. Louis] where Elisa finished out active duty.
Sept. 11, 2001
“When I went to work for the Air Force Flight Standards Agency, I got [to Washington, D.C.] at the very end of July in 2001,” D’Antonio told Rasure. “The agency, our bosses, were actually over in the Pentagon, so I had to go through the headquarters’ Air Force orientation class where they told you all the administrative stuff about working at the Pentagon.”
She was on the second day of that course when the plane hit the Pentagon.
“The fire alarms went off right away,” D’Antonio told Rasure. “There was no smoke or damage in the area I was in. As soon as the fire alarms went off, we evacuated the building. We were downwind of the explosion, and the smoke cloud and the fireball that came up from the explosion hadn’t even traveled over to where we were by the time we were out of the building. I came out of the building and I turned and looked to the right and the cloud of smoke was right there.
“We got out of the building and knew right away that it was an airplane that hit because we could smell the burning jet fuel. So we went across the parking lot and sat on the embankment next to the freeway.”
It wasn’t long before the police began evacuating the group again. There were reports that United Airlines Flight 93 was heading toward Washington, D.C.
D’Antonio and a friend walked to a nearby hotel, found pay phones and called their families. By 2 p.m., they made it back home safely. They’re the lucky ones; 189 people were killed at the Pentagon that day, including 64 on the plane and 125 on the ground.
Her Scouting chapter
D’Antonio was always destined to be a Scouter. Here’s another excerpt from Rasure’s story:
Before joining the Air Force, Elisa spent years working with youth first as a camp counselor for the YMCA, and then as a program director for parks and rec in college. These experiences served her well as she entered the world of Scouting.
Although she had no formal Scouting experience before her son Ryan, now an Eagle Scout, joined Cub Scouts, she dove right in as his Tiger den leader.
“At that time, I was still on active duty in the Air Force and wasn’t really looking to be a volunteer at that point, but no one else would step up to be the Tiger den leader, so I was the leader. At some point in second grade, we really didn’t have a functioning Cubmaster, so I kind of got roped into that too.”
In 2010, Elisa took over as the Cub camping chair for the former Lewis & Clark Council and spent time as the Cub Adventure Camp Director. She even served on national camp school staff. As if that wasn’t enough on her plate, she also led her daughter’s Girl Scout troop.
As the council’s Cub Scout camping committee chair, she helps provide the direction for the volunteers who execute the program.
“We set the broad ideas, policies, themes for all Cub Scout camps. Things aren’t going to change overnight. Getting some good, quality survey feedback this summer will allow us to find out what the parents, leaders and kids want [in camping programs], and what they need.”