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Alpena resident survived attacks

September 9, 2011
Emily Siegmon - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

Cheri Clum is a survivor of the Pentagon attack on Sept. 11.

At the time of the attack, Clum, who now lives in Alpena, was working for the government at the Pentagon. She worked for the government for over 25 years as a certified government financial manager, and experienced first hand the terrorist attacks.

"I was in another building at a meeting at the time of the attack," said Clum, who started tearing up thinking about how she had not been in her office at the Pentagon.

Article Photos

News Photo by Emily Siegmon
Cheri Clum of Alpena worked in Washington for the Pentagon during the attacks of Sept. 11. Clum, whose office was in the Pentagon, was out of the office when the attack happened.

Clum first found out about what had happened to the World Trade Center in New York through a friend who had called to let her know was going on. Within 30 minutes of the phone call the Boeing 757 hit the Pentagon.

"I remember instantly running to the window. All I could see was smoke; the whole place was filled with smoke," Clum said. "It was an unbelievable experience, there's no other way to explain it."

One of her closest friend's husband also was working at the Pentagon, but was walking across the parking lot when the plane hit. He also survived the attack.

"At that point, all we knew was that there was a fire," Clum said. "There was absolute chaos and people were so afraid. Then the building was evacuated. I watched as the wall fell down."

She said that getting out of her car she felt that a bomb had hit her.

"I just stood there and shook while smoke engulfed my car, and everything around me. It was absolutely terrifying," she said.

Clum had lived in the Washington area for over 50 years, and worked for the government and at the Pentagon for 25 years. She was familiar with the area, and knew a lot of people who were victims of the attack.

"For days afterward we tried doing anything we could to help those who were injured," Clum said. "This went on for days."

She recalls hearing bombers fly over the Washington area. She said she would lay in bed, in terror thinking that at any moment she would get bombed.

"I'd lay there at night, shivering. It was horrible," she said. "When I closed my eyes I'd see smoke, and all of those people, my friends who died."

She said she still wonders why she wasn't in her office that day, and why the meeting she attended was located where it was.

Clum believes the Pentagon tragedies have been overlooked and does not want people to forget. She attempted going back to the Pentagon once, but could not make it all the way through. She said nothing was ever retrieved from the building or her office.

"I remember having to go back to work the next day, but under armed guards," Clum said. "Lunches were checked and there was top security everywhere."

Counseling services were offered to those who had lost loved ones, but that did not include Clum and her sense of loss or grief.

"What made me feel better was participating in the aftermath," said Clum, who worked with people on a memorial tribute of 100 quilts, that were displayed at the Women's and Military War Memorial.

She often wonders about the Pentagon attacks and the losses that occurred in Pennsylvania, hoping that people will not forget. Clum also knew a stewardess who was on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

"I have lived with the fact that so many people I knew and cared about were affected in Virginia, Washington and Pennsylvania. These attacks happened and hurt people in a lot of areas, not just in New York.," she said.

During the time of the terrorist attacks, Clum had relatives living in Alpena, as well as in other areas, who had a hard time getting through to her, attempting to communicate with her to know that she was still alive.

"It took about a day or two to talk to them, but they were instantly relieved once they could (make contact)," she said.

As the 10th anniversary date of the terrorist attacks arrives Clum believes it was time to come forward and share her story.

"I was not ready to share before," she said. "I lived a lot of it internally, but every time I tell my story it hurts a little less. I just do not want people to forget."

Emily Siegmon can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5687.



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