Today he sits in an office on the second floor of the headquarters building at Fort Belvoir. The large brick structure with its flower garden center walkway and tranquil setting almost resembles that of a college campus set apart from the demands of a stressed out world.
But as the one year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, begins to envelop every segment of national life, Colonel Thomas W. Williams is drawn back to his former office on the ground floor of the Pentagon, immediately next to the black hole gauged by American Airlines Flight 77 that ordinary Tuesday morning.
"It's still hard to grasp that it really happened. As the anniversary is getting closer it's like reflecting back on your first year of marriage, so much has changed in your life that it's hard to comprehend," Williams confided.
On July 11, 2002, he took over as Fort Belvoir's new Garrison Commander. He replaced Colonel Kurt A. Weaver who is now back at the Pentagon with a new assignment.
On America's second day of infamy, Williams was in his Pentagon office early, as he usually is, preparing for a meeting of all major commands for Installation Management. It was scheduled to begin that morning at a nearby hotel. He was serving as Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management.
"There was a car waiting to take us to the hotel. I walked some people to the parking lot. When we reached the vehicle there were too many of us so I decided to take another car. I also realized I needed to get something from my office. So, I told them to go ahead," he recalled.
"As I was walking back to the office, I heard the explosion and then saw all this debris coming down the hallway. If I had not walked out to that car that morning I would not be sitting here now," Williams reflected.
TWO PEOPLE IN HIS OFFICE were killed that morning — Sandra Taylor the staff action control officer and Cheryl Sincock, head secretary to Major General Robert Van Antwerp, Williams' immediate superior at that time. Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell, was severely burned, but has made a hard fought recovery and is now back at the pentagon.
Williams' first reaction, as with any officer in a battle situation, was to account for his people. "I immediately started to make a list of all personnel in our unit. I was able to account for all but two.
"I knew, when I saw the devastation that they could not have gotten out," he said. That list is in his possession today. There are check marks next to every name, except those of Taylor and Sincock.
Included in the manilla folder that contains the actions of that day are pictures of an office picnic held just two weeks before September 11 with snapshots of Sandra Taylor mugging for the camera. It also contains shots of Birdwell then and as he made his recovery and reemergence.
"As I was walking down the hall that morning someone told me to look at a television. I saw the planes hit the Trade Center.
"After the Pentagon strike my first reaction was that this was only the beginning of other incidents. Initially, I was concerned that there were going to be car bombs set off as people rushed out of the building into the parking lots," Williams said.
A 1979 GRADUATE of West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, Williams has held a number of potential combat assignments throughout his 23-year career. He has also completed the Army Ranger course, Jumpmaster school, Jungle Warfare school, Air Defense Artillery Officer basic and advance courses.
Immediately prior to his most recent tour of duty at the Pentagon, Williams attended the National War College where he earned a Master of Science degree in, of all coincidences, National Security Strategy. He brought that knowledge and perspective with him to the pentagon in 2000.
In reflecting on the events of Sept. 11, Williams' reaction is a mix of military discipline, personal introspection and religious conviction.
"Those people who were passed over that day have things still to do in this life. You have to make life better every day in what ever way you can," he emphasized.
"This was very extreme but it only increased our resolve. It did not divide us. It only changed the political arena," Williams insisted.
AS FOR HIS BEING "passed over that day," Williams believes that there is more to what happens in life than circumstantial fate. The year 2001 started with the death of his mother in January.
"When I finally got through to one of my sisters late on Sept. 11, she told me that she had gotten a call from another sister about a dream she had during the night of Sept. 9. In that dream she said that Mom appeared as an angel and was saving me from a big blast of some kind," he related.
"The dream had been so real it had awakened her in the middle of the night. When she told me that, it only strengthened my belief that you can't get through life alone. You have to have faith in God," Williams said.
At his installation ceremony, Williams referred to his wife, Darlene, and their three sons, Arthur, Thomas, and Christopher, as "the command team for Fort Belvoir." He also reflected upon the name, Belvoir, given to the site by Lord Fairfax. Williams explained that it means, "beautiful to see."
"As you look around the post, you not only see it but you also feel it," Williams said during the ceremony. That view stood in stark contrast to the blazing horror he had witnessed and survived just 10 months before.
This career soldier is now about the business of serving as the Commanding Officer of this "beautiful to see" post along the shores and tributaries of the Potomac River near the home of America's First President. But he is also about the business of making "life better each day" in whatever way he can.