Local stonecutters helped rebuild Pentagon after 9/11 attacks
A stonecutter from southern Indiana, Riley was climbing over broken stone and piles of debris to measure blocks of limestone strewn across the grounds of the damaged Pentagon in Arlington, Va.
It was only weeks after the 9/11 attacks, and Riley said the scene was one of confusion.
Security was tight and military personnel were everywhere; tanks covered in camouflage netting surrounded the site. Construction equipment was moved in. Dumpsters full of debris were moved out.
“As we got to the Pentagon, it was chaos,” he said. “Flying into Reagan airport, I’d been there a few times before and it was always full of people. But this time it was dead. Almost no one was in there.”
Riley is the drafting supervisor of Bybee Stone Company, based in Ellettsville, Ind., the company that was hired to rebuild the portion of the Pentagon damaged in the attacks.
The company’s records call it “Job 306,” but those who worked on it call the effort the “Phoenix Project.”
“We’re all proud to have the job,” Riley said. “We all understood the importance.”
Riley said he found out about the attacks while with his co-workers.
The morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, business was as usual in Ellettsville. Loud saws whirred as they cut into stone, dust floated in the air from the workers’ machines.
Then, one worker heard a news bulletin on the radio over the noisy mill.
A plane had crashed in New York.
Riley said work stopped as everyone piled into an upstairs conference room, which happened to have a TV. There they watched the day’s events unfold.
The Bybee Stone Company sent representatives to Arlington only days after the attacks, Riley said.
Jeff Chitwood, the chief estimator for the company, visited the site early to survey how extensive the job would be.
A couple of other companies were competing for the job, but after visits from Riley, Chitwood and others in the mill, Bybee Stone Company got the official contract in late
Riley’s job at the site was to make sketches and notes about the size of the stones and the finish used on the original building.
He said the finish and accuracy to the original stone were what helped Bybee Stone Company get the contract.
Their mill is one of few that have the capability to produce a shot-sawn finish. This is made by placing buckshot-like metal in the saw to cut randomly carved grooves in the side of the stone, which was popular among historic buildings built around the same time as the Pentagon.
The original Pentagon structure had ties to southern Indiana, as well.
In 1941, 460,000 cubic feet of limestone were pulled from the ground by Indiana Limestone Company in Bedford, Ind. It was loaded on rail trucks bound for Arlington for a new office building for the growing U.S. War Department.
Ground was broken on the new Pentagon on Sept. 11, 1941.
Sixty years to the day after ground was broken in Arlington, American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the western side of the building, killing 189 people, including five hijackers.
The quality of limestone found in the ground of southern Indiana brought immediate attention to the area for the rebuilding effort.
“They immediately started the ball rolling,” Riley said. “Indiana limestone is historically the choice for a lot of government buildings. Just about any prominent building in D.C. has Indiana limestone on it.”
Independent Limestone Company in southwestern Monroe County pulled the 18,000 cubic feet of raw stone needed to rebuild the Pentagon from the quarry, but Bybee Stone Company cut the stone to size and oversaw the placement of the blocks at the site.
On Dec. 19, 2001, the first batch of cut stone was loaded onto trucks and sent to Virginia.
Before they left Ellettsville, those who worked for the project, along with other members of the community, signed one stone inscribed with a quote from President George W. Bush’s address to the nation on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Terrorist acts can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but cannot touch the foundation of America,” the stone read.
Shortly after the attacks, Riley said Bush put a deadline on the “Phoenix Project.” He wanted the job to be completed by the one-year anniversary of the attacks.
Riley said the pressure forced the company to pour all of its resources into the project.
Ultimately, the limestone was in place two months ahead of schedule, and the Pentagon was back to normal by Sept. 11, 2002.
“As we look back, we feel most proud that we were able to keep that schedule,” Riley said. “We made that statement that you may’ve bruised us up a little bit, but we’re not gonna stay knocked down forever.”