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Helmut Schmidt, Published September 11 2013

Eyewitness to 9/11 response at Pentagon urges Fargo students to be caring

FARGO – Mark Lindquist saw up close some of the horrific aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.

The Fargo man also saw heroism and sacrifice, and earned the deep satisfaction of helping his fellow man.

On Wednesday, Lindquist brought his eyewitness account of 9/11, and the lessons he learned, to 135 seventh-graders at Carl Ben Eielson Middle School.

While introducing Lindquist, seventh-grade world geography teacher Beth Ekre told the students 9/11 wasn’t something they as babies would have remembered, but nonetheless “your world has changed” because of what occurred.

Sights and sounds

Lindquist, who grew up in Ortonville, Minn., was a 20-year-old working with AmeriCorps in Washington, D.C., on the day of the attacks.

That morning, the building he was in shook with what he and his companions later learned was the impact of a jetliner slamming into the Pentagon 2½ miles away.

Showing television news clips of the 9/11 attacks, Lindquist said he and his companions then learned of the jetliner attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City that caused its twin towers to collapse, and of the crashed jetliner in Pennsylvania that was the result of passengers foiling another planned al-Qaida attack.

Next to the office building he was in that morning, he saw Washington, D.C., police academy students in riot gear.

“It was like we were going to war,” he said.

There was a burning smell in the air and armed F-16 fighter jets and helicopters flew overhead.

Cellphone lines were jammed.

Lindquist was attached to an American Red Cross group that set up a headquarters 200 yards from the massive, charred hole in the Pentagon. He then handed out food, blankets and hygiene items to exhausted firefighters and other first responders, or drove them to hotels, restaurants and their cars.

“For five days after 9/11, this is where I lived,” Lindquist said, pointing to a Pentagon parking lot. “The long hours we didn’t care about, because there were people dying.”

He remembers a firefighter so covered in ash and soot that he blended in with the night, wearily shambling over to him.

“Have you ever seen somebody who looked empty?” he asked the students.

He handed the firefighter a warm washcloth, and it “changed him,” Lindquist said, reviving and transforming the man.

‘Very powerful’

Memories like that, and time, have changed his perspective on his role in responding to 9/11. It’s now more special to him.

“I was one of the few able to give back to the cause,” Lindquist said.

The students were riveted.

“Very powerful. I liked how personal it was,” 12-year-old Amarah Wright said.

“I think it was just really inspiring, because he was actually there,” said Molly Sundbom, also 12.

“He really got into the detail of the story. It sticks in your mind more,” said Devin Larson, 12.

After 9/11, Lindquist served six years in the Air Force, traveling the world as part of the Tops in Blue entertainment group.

He’s also been an actor and singer, with roles in the TV series “Lost” and “Hawaii 5-0” and the movie “Battleship.”

Now, the 32-year-old is a motivational speaker and partner in a financial advisory firm.

Lindquist told the students he felt he was changed for the better by his 9/11 experience.

“I want 9/11 to change you even if you weren’t there,” he said, urging them to “be caring and give back to the community.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583