Man Remembers Mother Who Died in Pentagon on September 11

In Summary

Rodney Marquez Ratchford Jr. remembers his mother and two others who died during the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.

American Airlines flight 77 took off from Washington-Dulles International Airport with six crew members and 54 passengers on board. Among them were three young students and three teachers within the Washington D.C. Public School system. The group was selected to study ecology with researchers from the National Geographic Society, but hijackers made sure they never made it.  

BNC Washington D.C. correspondent Bofta Yimam spoke with a D.C. student who lost his mother and two others on the tragic day of September 11, 2001.  

The attack at the Pentagon killed 184 people, including the 125 military and civilian personnel inside. The blast could be seen and felt around Washington D.C., all the way to a local elementary school. There, an 11-year-old student named Rodney Marquez Ratchford, Jr. learned his mother would never return home from work. “That’s the heartbreak. That’s the reality of every day after that. My life is not the same anymore,” he said.  

Ratchford Jr. holds onto photos differently after 9/11, especially the ones of his mother Marsha Ratchford. She was known as a go-getter and joined the military after high school before becoming a first-class technician. Eventually, her career led her to the Pentagon, only about a year before the September 11 attacks.  

For Rodney, that tragic day started with a goodbye kiss on the forehead from his mother, but ended only with the memory of it. Rodney watched the attack on the World Trade Center on television while attending Leckie Elementary School. “As we’re watching that, you literally felt the school shake,” he said. “Like the school shook. You heard the noise. You heard the boom, and it was like, what is that? Everybody was like, ‘Drop down. Get under your desk.'”  

RELATED: Biden Administration to Withdraw US Troops From Afghanistan by 9/11 

After the Pentagon was hit, the school evacuated. Then a neighbor told him to go home and check on his mother, but he only found his father. “My dad, I remember seeing him in front of the window, holding the phone and he was crying, and I remember looking at the TV and seeing the Pentagon. They were showing pictures of the Pentagon on fire,” he said. At that moment he knew something was wrong, because he had never seen his father cry.  

The proud wife and dedicated mother of three was listed among the missing. Ratchford Jr. later learned he knew two of the other passengers on Flight 77. One was Leckie Elementary School’s popular teacher Hilda Taylor and the other was his best friend, Bernard Brown.  

Despite moving far from Washington D.C., the horrible events of September 11 stayed close. The ongoing pain of loss led him to a mental breakdown by the time he turned 13. “I had this anger in me, I wasn’t really playful. I’m not joking,” he said.  

Twenty years later, the father of two says counseling, church and cultivating hobbies helped him take the necessary steps forward. Additionally, by sharing his story, he hopes to encourage others to open up too. “If you’re in suffering, if you’re in pain, talk to someone about it. Don’t try to hold it in. It’s okay to hold it in sometimes, but at some point, you got to let it go.”  

One of Marsha’s big dreams was to create a nonprofit dedicated to helping the homeless. In 2002, Rodney says his aunt made that dream come to life and it is still going strong all these years later.  

If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma triggered by this story, resources are available here.   

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