A chance meeting at the Republican National Convention solved a 15-year-old mystery that began on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Air Force Col. Rob Maness was at the Pentagon when one of the four planes hijacked by jihadists rammed into the building that fateful day. He wasn't hurt, so he sprang to action, helping the injured. A badly burned man was being pushed by on a gurney and Maness was asked to hold the victim's leaky IV and keep him awake. He walked alongside the gurney and asked the fading man his name.
"Brian," came the frail response. The colonel prayed with his new friend and told him he'd be okay. As Maness watched Brian taken away by medics, he would always wonder if he survived.
Moments before, a very different scene had taken place (via The Washington Post):
[Army Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell] was in an office with two colleagues watching the live footage of the Twin Towers burning. At 9:35 he stepped out to go to the bathroom, telling his co-workers he’d be right back. It was the last time he ever spoke to them.
Less than 10 minutes later, as Birdwell left the bathroom, American Airlines Flight 77 barreled into the side of the building, the nose of the aircraft less than 20 yards from where Birdwell stood. He was engulfed in flames, parts of his polyester Army pants melted to his skin, his arms were skinned, and he collapsed with blood and black soot caked to his charred body. He lay there in the burning hall thinking of his wife and his teenage son and their goodbyes that morning. He tried to accept that he was dying.
But Birdwell didn't die, he survived after enduring a month in intensive care and nearly 40 surgeries to repair his body. He is now a state senator in Texas and flew to Cleveland to attend the 2016 Republican National Convention. And that's where the story begins to get even more interesting.
Like Birdwell, Maness is also in politics. He is currently running for a Senate seat in Louisiana. He was also in Cleveland seeking advice on running his campaign and spoke with Texas Gov. Rick Perry. After hearing a bit of his story, Perry suggested he meet a friend who had a similar experience.
Once again, Maness and Birdwell were face-to-face for the first time since the Pentagon exploded. Maness was about to find out that Brian, the man he had continued to pray for, had indeed survived.
“We figured it out in a couple minutes of talking to each other," Maness said. "I started crying. It was a very positive emotional release for me.”
“We had a really big hug that had the gravity and emotion of two comrades-in-arms,” Birdwell added. “This wasn’t just someone in the building, this was someone who the Lord had as close to me 15 years ago as he was standing next to me in the room there with Governor Perry.”
This chance meeting gave Birdwell the opportunity to give a big "thank you" to the mystery Samaritan for helping save his life; a life that has been filled with his son's birthdays, graduations, and marriage.
“Rob played a part in me being able to do those things and that’s pretty special,” Birdwell said. “It’s a whale of a fraternity with one hell of an initiation.”
Amazingly, there's even more that these men have in common. Both have started charities to help veterans. Birdwell founded Face the Fire Ministries to help other burn victims and Maness started a suicide prevention organization.
More details at The Washington Post.