Charles Luedke was working in the Pentagon when terrorists intentionally flew a plane into the building on September 11, 2001. Luedke worked for the Office of the Director for Information Technology and Communications and recorded an oral history on March 8, 2002, less than six months after the attack.
From the U.S. military’s description:
Mr. Chuck Luedke worked with other information management technicians to help get the Army communications and computers servers back on line after the 9/11 attacks.
This oral history is one in a series of interviews conducted about Operation Noble Eagle, the name of the immediate response to the 9-11 attacks. Other oral histories about Operation Noble Eagle, all conducted in the weeks and months after 9-11, can be found here.
This oral history by Charles Luedke was obtained by the Novak Archive through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted to the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH).
Charles Luedke’s oral history audio can be heard here.
Charles Ludeke’s oral history transcript is below.
The transcript and audio recording are both in the public domain and can be used freely without permission.
UNITED STATES ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
INTERVIEW OF CHARLES LUEDKE
OFFICE OF DIRECTOR FOR INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS
CONDUCTED BY MSG DONNA MAJORS
The Center of Military History AT Fort Leslie J. McNair
March 8, 2002
P R O C E E D I N G S
MSG MAJORS: Today is 8 March 2002. This is an oral history interview. I'm MSG Donna Majors from the 46th Military History Detachment, and this interview is unclassified.
If you would for me, sir, would you state your name and organization for the tape?
MR. LUEDKE: I'm Charles Luedke, and I work for the Office of the Director for Information Technology and Communications.
MSG MAJORS: And are you doing this interview voluntarily, sir?
MR. LUEDKE: Yes.
MSG MAJORS: Great. And do you agree to grant access to the Center of Military History use of this material in their publications provided they quote you accurately?
MR. LUEDKE: Yes.
MSG MAJORS: Great, appreciate that. Can you give us a little bit about your own background, like where you're from and when you started working for the government, and maybe just a little bit about what you do?
MR. LUEDKE: Well, I'm from San Diego, California. I've been working for the government probably all my adult life. I joined the Marine Corps when I was 19 years old and retired from the Marine Corps two years ago.
Since that time, I've worked for a small privately-held network engineering company called SMS Data Products. I do military contracts only, normally, troubleshooting or building large enterprise military networks.
MSG MAJORS: And where was your office located on 9/11? Were you actually in the Pentagon somewhere?
MR. LUEDKE: Yes, at that time, I was actually working for the director of operations for the Pentagon networks, Mr. Tom Kuviak (phonetic), and my office was in the -- I'm trying to think of the acronym -- we call it the NSMC. It's the network operations center for the Pentagon networks. It's down in the basement of the North side of the building.
And that's probably -- let's see, do you want me to tell you about what happened that morning?
MSG MAJORS: Yeah, let's go ahead and talk about that. I kind of would like to know what you were doing when you found out about the World Trade Center, then what you heard, you know, saw, all of that.
MR. LUEDKE: Well, the NSMC's laid out like a large command center that you would see at NASA or someplace where there's a lot of work stations with large monitors on the wall. And they monitor the network operations, the actual operation of the network at the Pentagon.
Some of those monitors carry CNN 24 hours a day. And my office wasn't directly on the floor. I had a private office in the back. And someone came back and said that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center towers. I was sort of busy at the time so by the time I got up and went to the other room to look at the CNN monitors, the second plane had hit the Pentagon -- I mean, not the Pentagon, but the World Trade Center.
And I remember at the time, everybody was saying, "Wow, it's got to be an attack." And the next thought I had was standing in the Pentagon probably wasn't the best place to be. I walked back to my desk and I called my wife, who had taken our truck into the Chevy dealer for servicing. And she was watching it there at the truck dealership.
We talked briefly about it and I hung up the phone from her. And the next thing that happened was an Army captain walked in and said, "Everybody out. There's been an explosion. Everybody out of the building." So I just picked up by bag and walked out the door. And I was two floors below the North parking entrance so I went up the two flights of stairs out in North parking.
And as I was crossing the bridge towards the POAC, I looked back and saw the smoke the flames coming out of the Pentagon and it was a sight like a real surreal environment at the time. I had my cell phone. As I was walking out towards the North parking, my car was in North parking. And since I get there at 5:00 in the morning, it was like in the first row of North parking.
So as I was walking out to my car, I called my wife. She was really hysterical and she was saying, "Just get out of the Pentagon. Just run. There's another plane coming." And I looked back and it was like everybody who works in the Pentagon was coming out of North parking at the time. There was just hundreds of people streaming out of the doors.
So I jumped in my car and took off. There wasn't really much else to do. I figured just get away from the area right now. I got on 95 South and went home. I live down in Woodbridge. And on the way down, I called my wife again. I told her to just get the truck back and we'll go home and we'll meet up there.
And we were at the time trying to decide if we should get our daughter out of school or not. I went straight home. The cell phones pretty much went dead after that and pretty much all the land lines went dead, too, by the time I got home. So we were totally out of contact by then.
MSG MAJORS: Now, when the captain told you all to get out and he said an explosion or a bomb or something, when did you actually find out it was another plane?
MR. LUEDKE: When I called me wife. She knew there was a plane. I didn't know what it was at the time. I wasn't sure if it was a truck bomb or just an explosion in the building. But it was on fire. When I left, I didn't think we were going back in the next day at the time.
MSG MAJORS: Do you remember, did any of the fire alarms or anything go off in the building that you ever heard?
MR. LUEDKE: No, since I was so close to the entrance but just two floors directly down, I was probably one of the first people out of the building. There wasn't a charge crowd in front of me but there was a huge crowd behind me. And as I was leaving, there were medical crews running in and I was kind of shocked that they were so close that they were able to react that quickly.
There was no real question about going deeper into the Pentagon. It was just a human wave going towards the North parking. On my side of the building, there was no way you were going to get back in.
MSG MAJORS: I know a lot of the schools did close and they were calling parents to pick up their kids. Did Woodbridge schools close or did your daughter stay in school all day?
MR. LUEDKE: No, when we go home, we figured that we would leave her in school for now, that it would be better off for her to be with her classmates.
MSG MAJORS: Did they tell the kids what was going on at the school? I know some schools did. Some kids watched it on television which, you know, I've heard from people that it was really disturbing because they knew their parents worked at the Pentagon and teachers were turning on TV's in their room.
MR. LUEDKE: My daughter handled it pretty well. She spoke about she knew some kids in school whose parents were killed and we sort of watched it on TV some. But I think she just shut if off and went back to MTV up in her room after a few minutes.
I watched TV probably most of the afternoon, flipping around back and forth between CNN and MSNBC. And our neighbors who knew I worked at the Pentagon came over to see if I was there. It wasn't until that night that I started getting calls from California and San Diego and my parents and people who I haven't seen in years were calling me just to see if --
MSG MAJORS: That makes you feel pretty good.
MR. LUEDKE: Yeah, it was weird.
MSG MAJORS: How did you feel, I'm just curious, when you got home? It had to be a real off-balanced feeling, you know, even though you were away from it and watching television. Do you remember how you felt?
MR. LUEDKE: It was like it was just a bad dream. That afternoon was just like a totally bad dream. Pretty much by the end of the afternoon, I figured that we weren't going back in that night and that it would be better just to be ready for first thing in the morning.
At that time, the military and the government was talking about the Pentagon will be open for business the next day, so I figured I would get an early start. And I went to bed around 7:00 or 8:00, had a few highballs and went to bed around 7:00 or 8:00. And I got up at 3:00 in the morning and got dressed and packed my bag because I knew we were going to be probably into it for awhile.
And I usually carry a backpack that has all the tools that I need to do the network troubleshooting. And I was back in the Pentagon around 4:30 in the morning on Wednesday.
I wasn't sure I was going to get in so I went and parked in the Pentagon City Mall and actually walked across South parking and went in the South entrance to the building. And they were letting people in. At the time, though, the corridors were all filled with smoke.
I went back down to our operations center and people just started showing up around 5:00, 5:30 in the morning, and that's when we started working.
MSG MAJORS: I was going to say, I know that they were really determined that it was going to be business as usual and they were going to be back to work and the Pentagon was going to be open the next day. I'm sure there were a lot of communications and phones down. Were you all directly involved in trying to bring up the computer networks and the phone systems?
MR. LUEDKE: Yeah, that's what we did. I was sort of surprised that most of the networks survived. I really didn't expect us -- we have this large distribution network, it's an ATM-based network, and it's rather old. And I sort of expected that to be down, but it was up, which was sort of remarkable. What was down was the Army's primary networks were all down.
The Army has a major network distribution room right under where the crash was, where the attack was, and that was destroyed. So everything that was connected to it was down. That's what we worked on from the beginning.
We quickly formed a command center in one of the conference rooms of the NSMC and reports started coming about what things were down, what we needed to replace. And the biggest, largest area was the Army server farm was pretty much water damaged and smoke damaged.
MSG MAJORS: Server farm?
MR. LUEDKE: Server farm, where they keep all their e-mail servers and file servers and all the data servers. So the first thing we did which was really rather quick, there was a large server room directly connected to the NSMC which was pretty much empty. We had just built it to house another organization's equipment but they hadn't yet moved in.
So the first thing was the Army started pulling their servers from all the different locations and bringing them into that room. And there was one group of people that -- I wasn't on that team, but they were going into the damaged area and pulling the servers out, starting with the top secret servers and the secret servers and down to the unclassified servers, and just bringing in cart-fulls of servers into this large room that we had next-door.
And myself and a couple other guys rerouted some networks so that we could bring the Army networks into that room and we started bringing them up pretty much first thing Wednesday morning, although those guys, the server guys were still towel-drying the servers and using hair dryers and stuff to dry them off and bring them back on line and try to salvage information and get the network running from their side of the room.
MSG MAJORS: Were you all, before 9/11, were you already a 24-hour operation? Was there somebody that worked all around the clock?
MR. LUEDKE: Yes, the NSMC was a 24-hour operation.
MSG MAJORS: Did it change any after? I mean, did more people work 24 hours?
MR. LUEDKE: I think everybody worked 24 hours after that. The first three weeks, I worked 18-hour days, every day, right through the weekend. I think we worked 18 straight days right around 18 hours a day. I would just go home, get something to eat, go right to sleep, get up, put my clothes back on, and go back to work. It was just going home to sleep.
And at times, we didn't even know why we were doing that. Some people were grabbing hotel rooms here at the Hilton. My company paid for two rooms at the Hilton that you could sleep at. But for me, it was an easy shot. But 10:00 in the morning, it's not hard to drive South to Woodbridge.
MSG MAJORS: No traffic by then?
MR. LUEDKE: No, there's no traffic then.
MSG MAJORS: What was your biggest challenge other than I'm sure the long hours had to get challenging? But for you personally through this tragedy, what was the biggest challenge for you?
MR. LUEDKE: Physically, I think. I broke my right foot just walking the stairs. At the time when I first started, I was wearing tennis shoes and Levis and I was carrying probably a 35-pound pack. And just we had no communications in the building as far as being able to talk from network rooms to the NSMC, so if you needed something, you had to pretty much walk all the way back and get what you needed and walk back out to where you were working.
And just doing the stairs at the Pentagon, I mean, everywhere you go, there's stairs. So it was more of a stress fracture. I've done it before. So that's when I put on the steel-toed boots. I just used my boots as pretty much support for my foot.
MSG MAJORS: Like a cast?
MR. LUEDKE: Yeah, I believe it was about the third day that happened.
MSG MAJORS: And you were talking about your daughter. How old is your daughter?
MR. LUEDKE: She's 14. She's my youngest daughter. I have an older daughter who is in the Air Force.
MSG MAJORS: Can you see, has this changed her that you can see? I mean, it's probably the only time in her little world that anything like this happened.
MR. LUEDKE: I think my older daughter was affected more. She had just gotten out of Air Force boot camp and was in training at (inaudible) Air Force Base. She called. She was more hysterical, upset. She wanted to make sure we were okay.
And then from there, the stories started with -- you know, in the military, especially within the junior troops, you know, "We're going to war tomorrow. We're going to war tomorrow." And she was sort of like freaked out about that. I don't think she expected to go to war so quickly from when she joined the Air Force.
She's still in training. She still hasn't gone to war.
MSG MAJORS: That's okay with you right now, isn't it?
MR. LUEDKE: Yeah, I'm kind of wondering if that's going to happen soon.
MSG MAJORS: What about you? Are you a different man now than you were on September 10th in some ways?
MR. LUEDKE: No, I mean, I spent over 20 years in the Marine Corps so I've been in wars before and on combat deployment before. So I know that I worked harder -- the thing that I kept thinking was strange was after being on combat deployments that the work that we were doing at the Pentagon was way more than we ever did on a deployment. We were planning as we went. It wasn't like we had a long, detailed combat plan or a deployment plan. We were just kind of like going as we went along, making plans as we went along, day by day. Most of that first three weeks was patching the Army's networks back together.
And since everything was connected back to the area of the Pentagon that was destroyed, we had to basically go into every office, find their network switch, and then find the path to get it connected back to the network again in the other direction.
Sometimes that required just pulling the fiber-optic cables out of the hallway and stapling it into the wall, figuring that we'll go back later and patch it back in. I got to meet the Secretary of the Army in the first few days.
MSG MAJORS: Oh, really? That's cool.
MR. LUEDKE: He came back to work Wednesday but we didn't have power in that wing until I think Thursday morning, and that's when we were able to reconnect his networks. The areas were just trashed. We still had smoke. I mean, the building was on fire for the first three days we were working there so it was smoke, there was water damage.
MSG MAJORS: There's always that threat of another attack.
MR. LUEDKE: In fact, there were times when they would start yelling, "Everybody out. There's another plane, there's another plane." And we would all go out to South parking and snack on the Red Cross's stuff while we waited for the all clear to go back in and go back to work in the building.
MSG MAJORS: There must have been quite a scene around the building during the recovery effort and all that?
MR. LUEDKE: Yeah, there was. One night, another guy in my company, Tim Potter, one of his requirements was he had to pull fiber-optic cable and networking and phone cables out to where the FBI was set up at the heliport side of the building. And one night, I was getting off work and we were talking on the phone. And he had said how he had all this work left to do so I went over there and helped him pull cable for the rest of the night.
MSG MAJORS: What a nice guy.
MR. LUEDKE: Well, I mean, that's the way my company is. We're really small and we --
MSG MAJORS: Help each other out.
MR. LUEDKE: Help each other out, especially when you're on a project that's caused you to work way more than you normally do.
MSG MAJORS: So you spent some time then out in the parking lot around what they called Camp Union?
MR. LUEDKE: Yeah, it was back when the FBI was just setting up and I spent time there. That was where they were recovering evidence. They had a huge operation going. I didn't know they could pull that many agents in on a job like that.
So we brought it all back up, basically, over the three weeks. It was pretty much, the disaster patching was pretty much done the first three weeks. After that, we went down to six days a week, probably about 10 to 12 hours a day. And it wasn't until around early December that we went back to five days. In fact, we're still working 10 to 12 hours a day.
Right now, we're planning and preparing to totally replace the network, and that's what we're working on right now. It's up, it's running, and it's going to stay running, but the original plan was to replace the network as the wedges were rebuilt.
Wedge One was done but now it was damaged again. And we knew that the whole schedule was going to be thrown off on the Pentagon renovation so we're sort of renovating the Pentagon's network before the renovation. That's what we're working on right now.
MSG MAJORS: And that's something that you all are still doing even on the part that's being renovated? I mean, it's not like that's in the renovation contract where they -- are they putting the wires in as they build or the structure there?
MR. LUEDKE: Yeah, in the renovation area, they're putting the wires in as they build but we were going to go in the legacy areas where cabling and building out networks is a lot harder. I mean, we actually build rooms in the hallway that we're going to put network in as a temporary telephone closet. And then we also have a lot of work on a bunch of more classified projects, operations projects that need to be built up right now.
MSG MAJORS: And was that something that was always kind of the plan or has that been intensified since 9/11?
MR. LUEDKE: I think the schedule has been moved up for about what was a ten-year projects is now a one-year project.
MSG MAJORS: Wow.
MR. LUEDKE: So it's really condensed. It has some good points, too. I mean, there's not as much fighting over turf or who gets what contract isn't really a big deal anymore. It's just there's a small group of people who know the Pentagon's networks very well and that's the team I worked with during the recovery.
And from that action, I think this team was identified as being the knowledgeable guys at the Pentagon that (inaudible), pretty much getting together and rebuilding it, whereas in the past, (inaudible) was bringing in these big contractors like General Dynamics and giving them the whole contract. But they don't know where everything is now so they really can't do much.
And that was one of the things during the recovery, after a few days, the prime contractor on the operations contract, Lockheed Martin, had brought in like 50 or 60 guys from other contracts to come in and help do recovery but the first day, we found them to be rather useless. They were intelligent guys and they knew the business but they weren't cleared and they had no Pentagon badges, they needed escorts everywhere, they didn't know where anything was.
So you wound up with a group of like five guys tailing around that you couldn't send off. It's not like you could say, "Go to the basement and get this item," or "Go to this room."
MSG MAJORS: It's easier to do it yourself.
MR. LUEDKE: Because they needed an escort. So I was there anyway, escorting them, so I might as well just do the work. So they were just there for the first day, one day, and we pretty much sent them away because they couldn't work.
There was a large build out of these buildings like the Taylor Building that we're in now and the Polk Building, these buildings were rather empty. And as you can see here how the network wires and the phone wires have just dropped out of the ceiling. These were all put in (inaudible).
I think my company (inaudible) was just ordered to do it and we did it. We brought in ten guys and they worked just 24 hours a day and wired these two buildings up. Because this was where everybody was coming from the side of the Pentagon that was destroyed. Now, they've moved in here and they've already moved out. So this sort of like a big swing space building.
MSG MAJORS: When people are trying to measure how much work is done in your area, do they do it in number of servers up? Is it number of miles of wire ran?
MR. LUEDKE: It's connections, users. You know how many computer users there are in an area and by bringing that area up, you're pretty much connecting them with people at the time.
MSG MAJORS: Has somebody gotten kind of a ballpark of since the 9/11 attack, how many? Or is it just mind-boggling?
MR. LUEDKE: Yes, everybody in the Army. Everybody in the Army network in or around the Pentagon was affected. The other services, their distribution rooms were in the other side of the building. And actually, the plane hit probably in the best place that it could hit if it had to hit the building. It probably could have hit a little bit further to the right would have been a little bit better. But I think everybody pretty much agrees that it was the best place.
MSG MAJORS: I've heard that from other people, too, that if it had to hit somewhere. Those are all my questions. Is there anything that you want to add to our history today? Something that's just standing out in your mind or something maybe I just forgot to ask just because I'm not a rocket scientist and don't know anything about what you do and can't ask the right questions?
MR. LUEDKE: I think that the people who worked there before 9/11, there was, like I said, the core group of guys, I think it was about 7 or 8 guys that knew the network, knew what needed to be done, and just sort of went to work, were the guys that really did all the work that brought it all back together.
I mean, there was a lot of support and a lot of people whose jobs didn't directly impact bringing up networks that helped out a lot. But there was this one core group.
And the other thing that was weird was there was about -- we had been working there probably four or five days before the environmental specialists showed up with dust masks and safety equipment and like that. I mean, we were working just right out in the smoke and the haze, and I thought it was really odd that, wow, okay, you guys show up now? In fact, I got hazmat qualified about three weeks after the event. So now I know what it was that we were breathing all that time.
And also, every time I walk out of North parking, I walk out to my car in North parking, I still get a chill and it causes me to like look back over my shoulder like I did that day that I saw the smoke and the flames. Still, that's what impacts me the most. I don't have any bad dreams (inaudible) since that day.
MSG MAJORS: I've talked to people that every time it's cloudy, they go through kind of --
MR. LUEDKE: For me, it's the walk from the building to my car. I don't think a day goes by that I don't think about it. I didn't know anybody who was killed.
MSG MAJORS: That's good, that's good.
MR. LUEDKE: One of the offices in the communications part of ODITC was wiped out. That's why I guess it became (inaudible). (Inaudible), she acquired the whole communications branch, too, which is all the phone systems and cable TV systems, other communications, non-networking communications.
Now we're working to build a really more resilient virtual Pentagon that I kind of think of it was fighting the building. I mean, we've fought with ships and we've fought with Armies and divisions, but now we're actually fighting a building, which is kind of a neat concept.
MSG MAJORS: That's neat. That's a neat way to look at it. I just appreciate you so much making the time and your schedule for me today. I enjoyed this interview and have learned a lot. I just can't thank you enough. I appreciate it.
MR. LUEDKE: Thanks.
(The interview was concluded.)
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