Tow truck operator, therapist. The roles this Chesterfield man played in the 9/11 Pentagon recovery efforts.

Screen Shot 2023-09-11 at 6.02.59 PM.png
Posted at 6:06 PM, Sep 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-11 18:07:03-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Around the walls of Raymond Elkins' AAA Mid-Atlantic office in Chesterfield are memories of his life: Fred Flintstone figurines, accolades for his work, and photos of his ever-growing family.

But, there is one memory he does not need a reminder of; because he will never forget it.

"22 years, but I can see it, I feel it, like it was yesterday," said Elkins of September 11, 2001.

He said back then he lived and worked in Northern Virginia and that morning he and his then-girlfriend, now wife, were driving their three-week-old daughter for a checkup (she had been born with a heart murmur). He said they were aware of the Twin Towers and were talking about it when his girlfriend's mother called.

"She said, 'Raymond, something just hit the Pentagon.' I'm like, 'Oh, I don't believe that. No way.' And she worked in Rosslyn. So, she felt the impact. Her windows shook. That's how close she was," recalled Elkins. "So, I got off the phone with her, turned on the radio, heard that it was true. Turned the van around, called all my drivers, and said 'Park their trucks at the shop and get to my house.'"

Elkins told them that because, while he now works as the fleet services manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, at the time he was co-owner of a tow truck company that had a contract with the Pentagon. He said he called and asked what they needed and after a while was told to 'bring everything you got.'

Elkins said he and his crews arrived on site the afternoon and gave him his first glimpse of the destruction.

"All the people, the smell, the visual burning of the Pentagon. And just knowing I had a lot of people that I knew that were down there," said Elkins, who later learned everyone he knew had survived.

He said their first job was to move all the cars from one of the parking lots to allow for a police staging area to be set up. After that, they staged in a spot that overlooked the side of the Pentagon that had been hit.

"We were overlooking, you could see straight down on the Pentagon and the smoke. the flames. I mean, it took three days to put the flames out. That's how bad it was."

Along with moving cars and other items outside the building, he said he was also called inside to remove cars -- including when the fire was still burning.

He also turned into a therapist, of sorts, when he had to drive family members arriving to pick up their lost loved ones' cars.

"The crying especially, because they're there at the building. It was tough. But I learned real quick that that's what I was there for," said Elkins. "Still pray for the families. That's all I can do."

He said he spent around a year working as part of the clean-up crew and would sleep in his truck, and later his van, at times.

"I did it for many nights and when I did sleep, I would have crazy dreams about seeing dead babies. There were no babies that I saw [at the Pentagon]," he said those experiences got him sent home by someone from the Red Cross. "She goes, 'Well, tell me about these dreams.' So, I told her and she goes, 'You need to go home.' I said, 'I can't go.' She goes, 'Go home, spend some time with your daughter, spend the night and then come back tomorrow.'"

Elkins said he and others saw and did things they never wanted to, but did because they had to and credits the work of the many first responders.

"I still see it in my head. I think about the people that were there. I think about a lot of time that I spent there after that," said Elkins. "They're heroes. They really are. I mean, they're the ones that were in the building…There were some great people."

He added while the work kept him away from his young family, it is something he is proud to have helped with.

"I never would have thought that I was involved with something like that. To this day it kind of -- why was I there?" he said. "I cared about helping the people that needed to be helped."

Do you know about a good news story happening in your community? Click hereto email and the CBS 6 News team.

SHARE on social media to SPREAD the WORD!

EAT IT, VIRGINIA restaurant news and interviews


Giving You A Voice: Contact the CBS 6 Team

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.