SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we are hearing heartbreaking stories of loss and incredible stories of survival from San Diegans who witnessed the destruction.
Lieutenant Chris Ludmer was a 31-year-old Navy lawyer working inside the Pentagon one office complex away from the plane's impact.
"The loudest noise I had ever heard in my life, just this boom," Ludmer said.
He knew the country was under attack, but he didn't know what caused the explosion at the Pentagon. Was it a missile, a bomb or a plane? And just how exactly were 24,000 people supposed to evacuate all at once?
"Absolute chaos, confusion, shock, terror," he said.
A young JAG at the time working 13-hour days, Ludmer made a habit of buying a cup of coffee from a kiosk close to the point of impact. But because of the attacks in New York just minutes before, his daily routine was thrown off.
"That's where I would have been standing, that's where I was standing almost every day at 9:30, but for this meeting running long. I would have been there, and of course everyone who was near that area was killed instantly," Ludmer said.
Although Ludmer made it to safety, with disrupted telephone and computer service, he had no way to contact his family.
"My parents, my friends, my family, they didn't, for 13 hours, didn't know if I was alive or dead," he said.
With the Pentagon still on fire, Ludmer says Admiral Don Guter ordered the entire staff back to work the next morning.
"I thought it was absolutely the right message to send. I didn't even hesitate," he said.
He now works on the 21st floor of a downtown building. He says when he first moved to San Diego that took some getting used to, for obvious reasons.
"I have to admit for the first couple of times it gave me a little pause and made me feel somewhat uneasy," he said.
A decade after 9/11, his memories are still incredibly vivid.
"It's just seared into my mind, I mean, to this day I get very emotional about it," Ludmer said.
That includes his assessment of the terrorists' senseless act.
"The only thing I think they accomplished was killing a whole lot of innocent people and of course I think they brought about their own destruction," Ludmer said.
Chris Ludmer knew several people who were killed inside the Pentagon, including one person on American Airlines Flight 77. He admits sometimes he suffers from survivor's guilt.