Smoke filled the hallways and debris crashed around him as Staff Sgt. Robert Wallace raced through the Pentagon on Sept. 11 helping injured people.
With a wet T-shirt wrapped around his face, Sergeant Wallace entered blazing portions of the building several times to lead survivors to safety and carry out bodies of the dead.
“Everything was on fire. You could hardly see anything in front of you,” said Sergeant Wallace, a Marine. “I saw things there that no American should have to see in our own backyard.”
Sergeant Wallace, a 1991 Sylvania Southview High School graduate, will be honored for his service on July 23. He and five other Marines will receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal at a ceremony in Washington.
The medal is given to those who risk their lives in noncombat situations.
Of dozens of honors awarded to Marines, only eight are higher than the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
“By his unyielding fighting spirit and his prompt courageous actions in the face of extreme adversity, grave danger, and life-threatening conditions, Staff Sgt. Wallace prevented loss of life,” the citation on his award reads.
Sergeant Wallace, 29, is an administrative chief at the Pentagon, where he has worked for about a year. He assists with daily operations and checks on employees' security clearance.
He said he was walking into work that infamous September day when an airplane slammed into the Pentagon.
After the impact, he rushed into the complex's central courtyard where everything was “complete chaos.”
He and several other Pentagon workers dodged fires and climbed to the fourth level of the building. They helped injured people, including one woman with “several open wounds and burns all over her body,” reach medical aid in the courtyard, said a report by Sergeant Wallace's commanding officer, Maj. Jeffrey Wolff.
“Removing injured personnel undoubtedly avoided smoke inhalation casualties,” the report said.
Another Marine from the area was honored in December for his assistance at the Pentagon in the days after the attack. Staff Sgt. Michael Farrington of Adrian, Mich., helped pull bodies from the wreckage and secure classified documents.
“We were walking through water and trying to maneuver through sometimes waist-high rubble,” Sergeant Farrington, 29, said. “It was scary at points.”
The Adrian High School graduate joined the Marines in 1992 and now works as a security specialist at the Pentagon. His mother, Mary Evans, and twin brother, Ted, live in Adrian.
Sergeant Farrington received the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, which is a more common award than the medal given to Sergeant Wallace.
Both men were humble about receiving awards, saying that they were only doing their duty.
“It was so crazy,” Sergeant Wallace said. “You didn't really have time to think. You just got in there to see what you could do.”
Sergeant Wallace's parents, Robert and Diane Wallace, live in Waterville. Both plan to attend the Washington ceremony.
“I wouldn't miss it for anything,” the elder Mr. Wallace, a former Marine, said. “I am very proud. He's quite a kid.”