Falk, Meg (Mary Margaret)
9/11 Pentagon Attack Oral History
"We had the idea on the afternoon of 9/11, but what happened the morning of the 12th was nothing less than people using their incredible skills and competence and unmatched caring to make all the right things happen."
Date of Interview: 8 July 2002
Interviewers: Dr. Randy Papadopoulos & Julie Kowalski, Naval Historical Center; CAPT Rushand Tate, OSD Office of Family Policy Office of Special Counsel
At the time of the attack, Ms. Falk was working as the director of the Office of Family Policy. On the morning of the attack, she was at work at the Pentagon.
Oral History Summary:
The DoD Office of Family Policy handled policy matters related to dependents of members of the United States Armed Forces. The office reported to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy.
When the plane hit the Pentagon, Ms. Falk and her staff were in a meeting in a conference room on the first deck of the B Ring off of Corridor 7. They were discussing policy issues related to the idea of the social compact that there is a reciprocal commitment between the DoD and the service members and their families. And Ms. Falk believed that that commitment existed from the time the service member joined the armed forces to the grave, even if the service member had long been retired.
After the plane hit, they evacuated to the inner courtyard. When Ms. Falk saw the smoke rising from Wedge 1, she said to her team, "We've got casualties. We've got to do something. I don't know what it is right now, but we've got to do something." After her staff got out of the Pentagon, they drove to an Air Force command office a few blocks away. While making phone calls there, Ms. Falk hit upon the idea to establish a Family Assistance Center. She had the authorization to make it happen within minutes.
The next morning, the Pentagon Family Assistance Center (PFAC) was announced at a major briefing by the Under Secretary of Defense Dr. Chu. Over the next month, the PFAC, which was set up the Sheraton Crystal City in Arlington, served as the central hub for the families of all of the victims, including those who had been on the airplane. The main military leader at PFAC was Army General John Van Alstyne. Ms. Falk described him as the "heart and soul of the center."
In her oral history, Ms. Falk detailed everything that went into ensuring the PFAC was successful. She talked at length about General Van Alstyne and his approach to working with the families. She also talked about the numerous private organizations that volunteered their time and resources to ensure the families had everything they needed. She praised certain military offices, including the Army Reserve Legal Services office based in Richmond. She did not take the opportunity to pat herself on the back, although she could have. Ms. Falk was the central figure that made the PFAC possible.
The PFAC, in Ms. Falk's words, "epitomized the incredible humanity in the Department of Defense."
Oral History Transcript: Falk, Meg Pentagon Attack Oral History (PDF, 341kb)
Related Oral Histories:
After Action Report: Response to the Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon: Pentagon Family Assistance Center (PFAC) After Action Report (PDF, 24.6mb)
PFAC After Action Report: Appendix A (PDF, 3.9mb)
PFAC After Action Report: Appendix B (PDF, 5.7mb)
PFAC After Action Report: Appendix C (PDF, 9.7mb)
PFAC After Action Report: Appendix D (PDF, 3.5mb)
PFAC Handout: Descriptions of Organizations and Services Available to the Families at the PFAC, 2 October 2001 (PDF, 170kb)
Washington Post Article: Key Pentagon Official Hailed for 9/11 Role, Frederick Kunkle, 13 June 2002
Washington Post Obituary: Meg Falk, advocate for Pentagon families after 9/11 attacks, Emily Langer, 22 March 2016