Nebraska veteran was at Pentagon on 9/11, shares experience with Fairbury students

FAIRBURY, NE — 20 years ago on September 11th, Mark Schoenrock was walking the halls of the Pentagon.

He looked at his watch and read 9:35.

Then, he got a feeling and took an unorthodox route to his friend’s office.

“So I got to the C ring, and instead of going out to the E ring, I turned right and I came down the C ring," Schoenrock said.

At 9:37, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon’s outer ring, killing all 64 people on the plane and 125 people in the building. Schoenrock was just 100 yards away.

“If there is such a thing as hell on Earth, it was that moment,” Schoenrock said.

20 years later, Schoenrock is retired from active duty in the Army, lives in rural Jefferson County and serves as a county commissioner. He reached out to Fairbury High history teacher Mick Suey and offered to share his experience with students.

“If there’s one reason I believe that my life was spared the morning of 9/11, it is to come out and share that message with this rising generation, these wonderful young men and young women of today, that they can hear it from someone that actually lived it,” Schoenrock said.

Suey took the experience to another level, bringing his classes to the county courthouse to interact with veterans and help set up flags ahead of Fairbury’s Founders Day celebration.

“They get to mingle with veterans, they see and hear the respect for the flag, the country, the county and the city," Suey said. "They’re learning, especially today, learning a lot of things.”

After two decades, it’s still difficult for Schoenrock to think back to 9/11, but he says he now finds it therapeutic to share his story. More than that, he wants youth to appreciate the past and recognize the quality of life offered in America.

“We can take it for granted very easily," Schoenrock said. "So it’s important that we’re reminded of what we have and what it took to get it.”