It’s hard to imagine enduring what Texas Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) did on Sept. 11, 2001, and coming out on the other side, literally, 20 years ago.
“There are daily reminders in my range of motion, limitations, or other things of the injuries from that day, but then there are the things that make a seem like a lifetime ago. As you see it, you know it’s only been 20 years, but I’ve got staff members that were in diapers on Sept. 11," said Birdwell.
Birdwell witnessed the beginnings of the attacks, like most Americans, watching the horrifying images on television of the World Trade Center burning. Unlike most people, Birdwell was huddled in a Pentagon office with his colleagues, praying, with no idea what was coming next.
“I told Sandy and Cheryle I was going to step out, go to the men’s restroom. Those were the last words that I would speak to my two co-workers,” said Birdwell.
The trip to the bathroom saved his life, which he would soon be fighting for.
“When I come out of the men’s restroom, I am coming back to the E-Ring hallway and I am about to turn right back into that hallway to go to my office. I am about 15 to 20 yards from the nose of that aircraft when it makes impact with the building at 530 mph with 3,000 gallons of gas,” said Birdwell. “Then there is the explosion, the vacuum, the concussion. I am tossed around like a rag doll. I go from a well-lit hallway, in charge of my faculties, into an earthly hell of fire and smoke and the temperature of that hallway, and then I’m set ablaze and I am burning."
Birdwell was burned over 60% of his body, mostly with third-degree burns.
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“I collapsed to the floor. I had given up. I did what we in the military are never trained to do. I quit, surrendered, acknowledged that I was going to join the Lord in eternity, and then collapsed to the floor and waited to die,“ said Birdwell.
But he found the strength to get up and saw four others who got him to a makeshift triage unit. What flowed, was agony. Over the next four years, including a month in ICU, Birdwell would undergo 39 surgeries.
“There were those moments in the ICU I pleaded, not just from the pain thresholds that I was experiencing, but watching the emotional agony of my wife and my son, that I pleaded for the Lord to finish what the terrorists had started. But in his wisdom and his sovereignty he decided that 'No Brian, I am not done with you,'” said Birdwell.
Twenty years later, Birdwell remains devoted to his faith, his family, and his country.
“As we are taping at this moment, the heaviness in my heart with what is happening in Afghanistan is on my mind. But I also know that the Lord still sits on his throne. Our responsibilities as believers is to pray for those in authority. So just as I ask the people of Senate District 22 to pray for me, it is our responsibility to pray for our president, pray for our leaders at the national level, the state level, local level, be engaged in that public policy process. Because even with our challenges this is still the best place on earth to be,” said Birdwell.