Two strangers met on 9/11 during a life and death struggle, not knowing what the future would hold for one another. But 15 years later, the mystery is solved in a spectacular way. The Washington Post details the events leading up to the pair’s harrowing meeting:

In 2001, [Lt. Col. Brian] Birdwell worked for the Army and, on the morning of Sept. 11, 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.

Also inside the Pentagon that morning was Air Force Col. Rob Maness who was unhurt and ran to help the wounded and dying. At one point, a gurney was wheeled past with Birdwell fading in and out of consciousness. Maness was instructed to hold the victim’s leaky IV and keep him awake. The colonel asked for his name. A frail Birdwell barely eked out, “Brian.” The two prayed together before parting ways. From that day forward, Maness always wondered if the man he knew only as Brian survived. He never suspected it would take 15 years to find out and at the most unlikely place.

For Birdwell, recovery was long and difficult. He endured 39 surgeries and spent a month in intensive care. Thankfully, he can be counted as among the survivors of the worst terror attack on American soil. In the years since, Birdwell was elected as a Texas state senator and he recently visited the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Maness, too, is trying his hand at politics and is currently vying for a Senate seat in Louisiana. His trip to the convention allowed him an opportunity to seek campaign advice from former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. But Perry had a different idea after hearing his story, introduce him to another veteran turned politician he knew about — one who was also at the Pentagon that fateful morning and shared a similar story.

It was then and there that Maness and Birdwell met as strangers once again, as they had 15 years prior. But it didn’t take long for a sense of familiarity to rise up inside both men.

“We figured it out in a couple minutes of talking to each other,” said Maness. “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.”

The two learned they have even more in common. Birdwell started Face the Fire Ministries to help burn victims like himself, while Maness became an advocate for veteran suicide prevention.

Birdwell credits Maness for playing a part in saving his life, which allowed him to see his son graduate from high school and college and get married. Because of that tragic event, the two will always share a special bond.

“It’s a whale of a fraternity with one hell of an initiation,” Birdwell said.

About The Author

Mark was a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, and served as the national coordinator. He left the organization to work more broadly on expanding the self-governance movement beyond the partisan divide. Mark appears regularly on television in outlets as diverse as MSNBC, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Bloomberg, Fox Business and the BBC. He’s highly sought after for the tea party perspective from print and electronic media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Examiner, Politico and the The Hill. Mark blogs at, and his opinion editorials regularly run in many of the leading political newspapers both on and offline. Mark has a BA in English from San Diego State University and graduated with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in 1988. He practiced real estate and business law for almost a decade. For the last eleven years of his legal career he specialized in Internet advertising law. When not fighting for the future of our nation, Mark is an avid horseman, and lives in rural northern California with his wife Patty and two children.

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