Jackson VA employee remembers 9/11
When Jackson VA employee Paul Lirette talks about it today, one can still see the memories are as vivid as when they happened 11 years ago on 9/11. On that day, he was called into action to save the lives of fellow Americans. During a brief interview with the Jackson VA Public Affairs Office, Lirette asked and answered one of his own questions this way:
“When I think of those people who jumped out of the buildings, and hear people say I could never do that, I shake my head. During that day inside the Pentagon, I found myself many times desperately gasping for air, my lungs were burning. When you feel like that you will do anything to find air…even jump out of a burning building.”
For his heroic actions on 9/11, then Master Sergeant Paul Lirette was awarded the Airmen’s Medal, the highest peacetime medal in the Air Force, on April 15, 2002. Below is an excerpt of his actions that day which first appeared in the DCMilitary.com on October 19, 2001.
Another newcomer to the clinic, Master Sgt. Paul Lirette, was also key to the response. Lirette is a radiology technician newly assigned as the superintendent of the clinic. He responded to the initial impact and explosion as part of the medical team, helping to carry trauma equipment. After assisting with one critically injured patient, a runner shouted that there were a number of people trapped in a room in one of the outer rings of the building. Lirette ran with them and eventually worked with a group of people to free a trapped individual in a room with a collapsed ceiling.
Baxter said that the next time he saw the master sergeant was about an hour later, outside the Pentagon, in the triage area. Lirette recounted at that time how they had worked feverishly in an area with a collapsed ceiling, with dense smoke and had eventually been successful in freeing a man who had been trapped underneath collapsed debris. Lirette remarked he felt bad at the time because he had been pulling a lot of debris out and got it all over a three-star general who was also pulling out debris. As he later learned, that three-star general was Lt. Gen. Paul K. Carlton, surgeon general of the Air Force. Both Carlton and Lirette have since detailed their roles in People Magazine and other publications.
Lirette's modest observation of his actions that day were summarized when explained, "I was just doing my job. That's what the Air Force pays me to do."