ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — One Army veteran who now lives in Elizabethtown had an extraordinary military career that included saving lives on Sept. 11.
Retired Army Sergeant Major Tony Rose has many military honors, awards and mementos in his home office. Some of his worst memories from one particular day in service have been used in official military reports and written about in history books.
Rose served 31 years in the Army, with missions all over the world alongside his wife, Beverly, who’s also a veteran. But the patriot is perhaps best-known for his response to 9/11, which started like any other day for him, working at the Pentagon. That was, until news started coming in that the World Trade Center had been hit.
“It didn’t take long for people to wonder what was going to happen next, but we knew our day was changing,” Rose said. “Went back to the office area, was telling John, literally, ‘John, we need to be careful.’ Before I could get the word careful out of my mouth, the whole building shook as if it were an earthquake. And I don’t mean it felt like it shook — it shook. What we didn’t know is Flight 77 had hit us at over 400 miles per hour.”
Rose was one of a few people who saw the nose of the plane when it crashed into the building. He said it was directly under his office when it blew up.
“The nose cone burst out of the wall directly into us, and plane, building, people were splattered all over B Ring wall,” he said.
Rose said at that point, he was blown across the room and hit a column. That, he said, saved his life.
“Breath was knocked out of me,” Rose said. “That saved my life, because I couldn’t breathe in, couldn’t breathe out, and if you’ve been body slammed, you know how it is, so because I couldn’t breathe in, I did not inhale the smoke, and the fire that was rolling over us 10 feet off the floor at 2200 degrees plus.”
As the flames engulfed the nation’s strongest building, Rose can still recall what went through his mind in those moments.
“All those things in Sunday School start coming back to you, you know, ‘The good Lord knows the number of my days,’” he said. “If I was supposed to be dead, I would be dead. Then, you hear your dad saying, ‘Well, boy, don’t just lay there, do something.’ Then, you just can barely hear, because the explosion had taken away hearing, start hearing other people crying, and that’s where the human part comes in.”
Rose knew at that point that his toughest mission yet was just beginning.
“I rolled over and started crawling, looking for other people and did that until about 6 o’clock that afternoon,” he said.
Rose worked with fire officials and the FBI all day. He went in and out of the Pentagon several times with no gear, just wetting his shirt to keep flames from catching on him.
After leaving that evening, Rose said he went home and made calls to families of his soldiers, either telling them which hospitals they could find their loved ones at, or delivering the hard news that they hadn’t been found, yet.
It wasn’t until nearly 1 a.m. that Rose looked in the mirror and knew he needed to go to the hospital.
“I had some embedded glass. I had some embedded metal,” he said. “The doctor told me later after they examined me that I most likely dislocated my right shoulder somewhere, but possibly had pulled it back in place by either pulling other people out or moving things, but I didn’t feel anything of that.”
Rose said he also had a busted knee and was likely concussed, but none of that slowed him down that day. The hero is officially credited with saving seven lives on 9/11, but unofficially, he was told he saved many more.
“You know, sometimes years later, I’ll find out, ‘Oh, you were the guy,’” Rose said, choking up, “You get a call or an email, and you realize you were there for a reason.”
Rose served two more years after the Sept.11 terrorist attacks. The Army designated him as a spokesperson for major news interviews and flew him around the world to share his story with victims of terrorism in other countries.
After he retired, he continued that type of work, speaking at schools, churches and events, taking with him three of his belongings that, against all odds, survived the flames when everything else burned or melted — his Bible, the coffee mug he was drinking from that day and a small, wooden Uncle Sam his mom had made him.
“The computer and desk were melted to slag, and this little guy survived,” he said, holding the wooden figure. “How it did, we don’t know. It’s just a little piece of pressed wood, but when it’s damp, you can smell petroleum fire.”
While Rose was decorated with several awards and honors for his heroism on 9/11, including his prized Purple Heart, he said, “Sometimes instilling hope is the best thing we can do.”
He might be most proud of how his story from that horrific day has inspired and encouraged countless others.
After leaving the service, Rose realized he had PTSD from his time in the service and wanted to better understand what was going on in his own mind. That led him to get his master’s degree in psychology at Western Kentucky University.
He then continued to help others with PTSD as a therapist for the next decade, specializing in helping children who were victims of domestic abuse.
Rose is retired now, but he still does some speaking events in parts of Kentucky from time to time, when he feels his story can help people.