CHAPTER ELEVEN: BRYAN
“Intellectuals solve problems;
geniuses prevent them.”
Barbara Rachko had every reason not to ever set foot in the Pentagon. She was a liberal, a war protester, an artist. And a widow. She was about to enter the building where her husband died weeks earlier—87 days after they were married.
“What the hell am I doing here?”
It was October 2001, a month after five Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and deliberately crashed it into the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. The casualties: 125 in the building, another 64 (including the terrorists) on the plane.
But, Barbara had one reason to set foot in the still smoldering Pentagon. She worked there. She was about to go on duty. She was in her dress blue uniform. She was a commander in the United States Navy.
“Man up. Go inside.”
Barbara and her husband, Bryan Jack, lived an intriguing and ironic life. Both didn’t seem destined to work at the Pentagon. Both didn’t seem destined to ever be married to one another. But, both didn’t ever seem destined to be apart.
Bryan Creed Jack was born in California on January 3rd, 1953, the son of a career Air Force colonel. Bryan is one of two sons born to James and Helen Jack of Paris, Texas. The Jacks can trace their family roots back to the American Revolutionary War. Colonel Jack’s career took the family from base to base. They lived in Germany for a time before settling in the eastern Texas city of Tyler, named after President John Tyler, who aggressively pushed for annexation of Texas in the 1840s.
As a teenager, Bryan was a National Merit Scholar and state debating champion. After graduation from Robert E. Lee High School, he attended the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Upon graduation in 1974, he spent a year in Japan as one of the first recipients of the Luce Scholars Program. The private foundation, established by Time, Inc. founder Henry R. Luce, provides annual internships for young Americans to live and work in Asia. The program seeks to increase awareness of Asia among future American leaders. While in Japan, Bryan quickly picked up the language. When he returned to California in 1975, Bryan attended graduate school at CalTech, working as an assistant for Albert Wohlstetter, a presidential adviser and expert on U.S. nuclear strategy during the Cold War. By 1978, Bryan had received his MBA from Stanford University.
Studies on human intelligence indicate that the majority of the population has an IQ between 85 and 115. Bryan’s was 180. A genius IQ is 160 and up. For comparison. Albert Einstein’s IQ is generally thought of to have ranged between 160-190.
Bryan was truly “an Einstein.” He was young and brilliant—but unemployed. In 1978, 25-year-old Bryan Jack walked into the Pentagon, hoping to land a job.
He would never leave.
The Pentagon is one of the world’s largest office buildings. It has five sides and five stories. Each side is known as a “wedge.” On a given day, 25,000 military and civilian personnel work in the building. Harold Brown served as Secretary of Defense under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981. Brown interviewed Bryan for an analyst position in the Pentagon’s Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E), Strategic Forces Division. One of Bryan’s first assignments was to study the positions of the United States and Soviet Union during the SALT II negotiations—a series of discussions from 1972 to 1979 aimed at slowing the manufacture of strategic nuclear weapons.
Around the same time as Bryan was in Washington, D.C., doing his part to prevent a nuclear war, Barbara was traveling cross-country in search of a career. After graduating as a psychology major in 1975 from the University of Vermont, Barbara and a few friends drove from Ithaca, New York to Berkeley, California. With no professional experience, Barbara counseled drug addicts and troubled juveniles for little pay. After six months, her money ran out and she found her way back in her childhood hometown—Clifton, New Jersey. She bounced around from job to job—movie theater manager, real estate agent—until a friend offered to take her for a ride in a single-engine airplane. Barbara was hooked. She worked at a local flight school in exchange for lessons. In only two years, Barbara, 25, earned her private pilot’s license and multi-engine rating. She saved money to attend commercial flight school in Atlanta, where she learned how to operate Boeing 727s. Barbara was smart, dedicated and motivated.
“I dreamed about being a commercial pilot,” she says.
Barbara sent letters and resumes to any airline that had a 727 in its fleet. She asked a cousin—a model who traveled around the world—to do likewise. Unbeknown to Barbara, her cousin sent a letter to a Navy recruiter.
“The Navy is looking for women pilots,” the recruiter told Barbara, who knew that pilot jobs, especially for women, were especially scarce in a depressed economy.
But Barbara grew up as a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She protested the Vietnam War. She was a liberal Democrat from a blue-collar town. She was unconventional and a free spirit. She never imagined a career in the military.
Desperate to fly, the Navy seemed like her only option. Barbara joined in October 1981 and became an officer two years later. The Navy never let her fly. She didn’t have perfect vision. She hadn’t graduated from the Naval Academy. As a consequence, she languished in administrative jobs, first in Pensacola, Florida, and later Washington D.C., after requesting a transfer.
“I wanted to live in a city. I needed museums, culture and civilization,” she recalls.
That transfer would transform her life.
Barbara was a lieutenant junior grade on her first day at the Pentagon, January 28th, 1986—the same day the NASA space shuttle Challenger exploded off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida shortly after liftoff. Seven crew members died, including a school teacher.
Ironically, Bryan and Barbara didn’t meet at their workplace. They met at his house in Alexandria, Virginia. Bryan was proud of his two-bedroom Sears “kit” home. The retailer sold the mass-produced, prefab homes primarily through its catalog during the first half of the 20th century. The kits contained all the plans and materials needed to build a house. Homeowners would follow the directions to build the house themselves or hire a local contractor to do the job.
Barbara’s friend and co-worker, Susan, rented the spare bedroom of Bryan’s house. He didn’t like to live alone and Susan needed a place to stay near the Pentagon. The women had just returned from a Naval ceremony in Washington. Susan suggested they go out for a drink afterward, but she wanted to change out of her uniform first. While waiting, Barbara met Bryan.
“I told him I was reading a book about Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese filmmaker,” she recalls. Bryan was a Kurosawa fan. “We started talking. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is a smart man.’ ”
The next day, Susan had a message for Barbara.
“Bryan really liked you. He really enjoyed talking to you.”
Barbara admits that she’s attracted to brilliant men. Bryan was brilliant to the third power.
Bryan pursued Barbara.
“I fell in love with his mind,” she says.
As they started dating, Barbara realized just how intelligent Bryan was—especially with numbers. Once, they were in a supermarket. Bryan looked at Barbara’s basket and said her items would add up to $59.23.
(He included the tax, of course).
“He got it to the penny,” Barbara recalls.
When the couple would go out with friends, Bryan could easily figure out each person’s share of the dinner check. He broke the stereotypical mold of an arrogant egghead who had a flair with numbers, but floundered with people.
“Bryan was the most sensitive person I ever met,” she says. “He had unbelievable people skills. And he was super gentlemanly.” He called himself “that tall and skinny guy.” He was also funny, a great listener and when he smiled his mustache would expand over his lip.
Bryan and Barbara’s biggest problem was time. His work days started at 7 a.m. Her shift was 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. Barbara worked in the department that managed computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She rented an apartment close to the Pentagon. Bryan would meet her after work, just to spend an hour or so before he had to go to sleep.
By July 1987, Susan had moved out of Bryan’s home. Barbara moved in. Even though they were a couple, Barbara insisted on paying him rent. “That didn’t last long,” she says laughing. He loved his old viola and his large fresh-water aquarium.
During their years of living together, Bryan proposed to Barbara from time to time. He even bought a ring in one of his attempts to convince her.
“Bryan, we have a great relationship,” she usually responded.
“I didn’t want to be married or have kids. He was more traditional. His parents had a great marriage. They were so loving. They never fought. I don’t think they knew how to fight.”
Bryan and Barbara never fought, she says. Barbara was happy with him, but unhappy at work. She didn’t need a piece of paper as validation of their love. She needed a change of career, she told Bryan.
“I have to find something else to do with my life. I hate this job.’ ”
Bryan—always the sensitive gentleman and good listener—was supportive.
Her change of careers would take her away from him, but bring them closer. Her change of careers may have saved her life.
As a young girl, Barbara took weekly drawing classes for eight years. “I remember being good at it and happy doing it.” Now in her 30s, Barbara started taking art classes at the Torpedo Factory Arts Center, a converted naval munitions plant, in the Old Town section of Alexandria. During the day, Barbara rekindled her artistic skills in classes of mostly female students. At night, she was back in uniform in the macho and male Pentagon.
Bryan was a rising star in the Pentagon and, unlike Barbara, had no plans to leave. He made enough money for Barbara to pursue art as a career. His biggest concern was that Barbara was leaving the highly structured Pentagon environment for a non-structured, home-based art business.
By 1989, Barbara was taking so many classes that she started dreading going to the Pentagon. By the fall, she had resigned from active duty after eight years in the Navy. She was a lieutenant commander. But, she decided to sign up for the Navy Reserves.
“I knew I could still work in the Pentagon, but concentrate on art.”
A little bit of structure. A lot of art.
By 1991, Bryan had earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Maryland. He would eventually become the director of the Programming and Fiscal Economics Division in the Office of PA&E. Bryan was mathematically gifted, and simply put, was the department’s top budget analyst who translated policy decisions into numbers.
“He couldn’t get away in the summer,” Barbara says, “because he was dealing with DOD budgets.”
The couple traveled to Italy and Mexico among other places. Bryan like to hike and was an amateur photographer, who often took pictures of Barbara’s artwork. She was inspired in their travels, especially drawn to Mexican and Guatemalan masks and figures.
Back in Virginia, Barbara’s art was garnering awards. She displayed her work in galleries and shows and quickly outgrew the Virginia art community. In order to take her career to the next level, she needed to show in New York City. At first, Barbara spent weekends at her aunt’s Manhattan apartment, trying to make connections. Gradually she started spending more time there and less in Virginia with Bryan. He was getting worried. Would they break up?
“I told him, ‘There’s nothing for artists in Washington. I’m not going because I want to leave you. I’m going for my career.’ ”
Bryan agreed. They would see each other on weekends—two in Manhattan, followed by one in Alexandria. Then repeat. Some weekends, Bryan would drive up to New York. On others, Barbara would take the Amtrak train to Washington. By 1996, Barbara landed her first show at a Manhattan gallery. A year later, she found an art studio on West 29th Street—thanks to Bryan, who had a friend at CalTech that helped her find it.
The couple was committed to their careers. They were committed to each other. A colleague once asked him, “Does it ever get tiring going back and forth all the time?” His response: “Not at all—it is worth it and it is a great life.”
Bryan and Barbara had a great life—for five more years.
At the Pentagon, Bryan was admired for his mind and adored for his heart. He was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal two times in his career. The award is for exceptionally distinguished performance of duty contributing to the nation’s defense or national security.
Unlike his father and brother, Bryan never served in the armed forces, but he served his country through five administrations.
His colleagues remember him as brilliant, of course, but mostly polite, kind, warm, funny, generous and caring. On Friday mornings, Bryan would make tea for them from a china turtle teapot given to him by students at the University of Maryland. The mascot is a terrapin. “That pot dribbled all over the table as the tea poured out of the turtle’s mouth,” wrote Libbie Blaeuer, one of Bryan’s colleagues, in a tribute book that they presented to Barbara after 9/11.
“I honestly don’t know of a single instance in which Bryan was unkind to anyone,” wrote Jim McBride. “He always sent cards and letters to friends and family. He often took unsolicited presents that he had spent time carefully selecting...to friends just because he wanted to please them.” He baked pies for his colleagues from an annual shipment of pecans that came from the Jack family farm in Texas.
With Barbara away during the week, Bryan had time to become an adjunct professor of economics at George Washington University. “He loved helping students,” Barbara says. One student from Russia asked Bryan for help with his PhD.
“Oh my God, Barbara!” Bryan exclaimed. “He asked me to be his adviser!”
Back in New York, Barbara could no longer stay at her aunt’s apartment. The landlord discovered that Barbara was subletting the rent-stabilized apartment, which was not allowed in the building. Desperate to keep her art career flourishing, Barbara lived in her studio. She had a mattress on the floor, no kitchen and had to shower at her gym. She needed to find another apartment quickly.
Barbara had saved money for a down payment, but needed Bryan’s help to secure a mortgage. They found an apartment on Bank Street in Greenwich Village. Barbara told Bryan that she was finally ready to get married. “I’m thinking, ‘We’re buying real estate together. Maybe it’s time.’ ”
After more than 15 years together, the couple was married on June 16th, 2001, in a gazebo in the garden of General Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home in Alexandria. Just the two of them, and a justice of the peace.
They were both 48 years old.
His co-workers were overjoyed. “We held a surprise wedding brunch in the office,” wrote Libbie. “I remember saying, ‘Gosh Bryan! You really did it, ring and everything?’ He pulled his hand from behind his back and held it up for me to see. I think everyone present was just as happy for Bryan as he was—and he was beaming!”
Afterward, Barbara wondered why she didn’t marry him sooner. “Once we were married, we were even happier,” Barbara says. “There was a difference.”
Bryan Jack was not in his office on Tuesday morning September 11th. If he was, he probably would have survived. Barbara Rachko wasn’t in her office that day. If she was, she probably would have died. If they were together on 9/11, both certainly would have died.
Bryan was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77. He was flying to California to give his monthly lecture at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. He asked Barbara to go with him, but since his trip was only for a few days, she decided to stay in New York.
“I love California,” Barbara says, “but I wanted to go with him for a week.”
At 9:37 a.m., the plane crashed into Wedge One on the western side of the Pentagon. Shortly after departing from Washington Dulles International Airport and bound for Los Angeles, the terrorists hijacked the Boeing 757. They altered course back toward Washington. The aircraft flew at such a low altitude that the wings clipped some lampposts before the plane crashed into the first-floor of the Pentagon. All 64 people on board died. Seventy civilians and 55 military personnel were killed in the building.
The casualty rate could have been much higher. Most of Wedge One was still unoccupied due to a building-wide renovation program. As a result, only 800 people out of 4,500 were in that section of the building that morning.
Barbara’s office on the fifth floor was destroyed by the intense fires and thick smoke that engulfed the wedge. Bryan’s office, in another part of the Pentagon, was undamaged.
In yet another ironic twist, Barbara was in New York City on the day of the attacks. She was doing yoga in the Bank Street apartment, less than two miles away from the World Trade Center, when the Twin Towers were hit by two airplanes. At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower. Shortly after departing from Boston and bound for Los Angeles, five Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked the Boeing 767. The terrorists violently took control, altered course and deliberately flew the plane, carrying about 10,000 gallons of jet fuel, into the building between the 93rd and 99th floors, instantly killing the 92 on board and scores more in the skyscraper. At 9:03 a.m., another group of Al-Qaeda terrorists crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower, between the 77th and 85th floors of the 110-story building, killing 65 on board and hundreds more in the skyscraper.
“When I heard the first explosion,” Barbara recalls. “I thought a building under construction had collapsed.”
From the rooftop of her apartment building, she saw hundreds of people fleeing northward via the West Side Highway as the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.
“I was never thinking anything (bad) about Bryan,” she remembers.
Still, knowing that Bryan was flying to California, Barbara called his cellphone and checked the voice messages at the Alexandria house. She only heard from Bryan’s friends and co-workers, concerned for his safety. Barbara’s sister, Michele, and brother-in-law, Devrim, checked the flight schedules out of Washington for that morning. They came to the inescapable conclusion that Bryan was on Flight 77.
Barbara couldn’t believe that Bryan was gone. She couldn’t believe that she was spared.
“I still imagine the terrible irony of Bryan being killed on the plane and me perishing in the building,” she says.
Ironically, Bryan’s brother, Terry, who lived in Colorado at the time, was in Washington, D.C. on 9/11. A few days later, he went to pick up the couple’s truck at Dulles.
Bryan’s remains were found in late September 2001. That December there was a memorial service in Arlington National Cemetery. Upon Barbara’s death, both husband and wife will be buried there. In October, Barbara attended a Department ofDefense ceremony at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington. She sat with members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet and accepted the Defense Exceptional Civilian Service Medal for 2000 that Bryan had yet to receive. Posthumous awards included: Presidential Rank Award, Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, and the Defense of Freedom Medal. Stanford University created the “Bryan C. Jack Memorial Scholarship,” which annually helps two students attend Stanford Business School. In 2007, Bryan’s hometown of Tyler named a magnet school after him—Dr. Bryan C. Jack Elementary School. Barbara cut the ribbon.
Barbara retired from the Navy in 2003 as a commander to pursue her passion full-time—her art. She honors her husband by living each day to its fullest. “I made a conscious decision to not become another victim of 9/11,” she says.
Barbara has visited the memorial outside of the Pentagon. There are 184 benches at the site, each engraved with a victim’s name. A shallow lighted pool of flowing water is under each bench. She has no desire to go inside the 9/11 Museum in Manhattan and declines invitations to attend ceremonies each September. Instead, Barbara occasionally visits the pools while on long walks along the Hudson River.
Bryan’s name is listed with the other passengers and crew of Flight 77. Next to his name are the panels of the people who died inside the Pentagon.
Barbara, 63, splits her time between Bryan’s beloved Sears house in Alexandria and her apartment in Manhattan. She still has the art studio that Bryan’s friend helped her find. She has not remarried.
“I don’t see how anybody could follow Bryan,” she says.
Barbara’s career continues to flourish. She is an award-winning professional artist, represented by six galleries with exhibits around the world. She often uses elevated and skewed perspectives and mixes vibrant color and dramatic shadows in her pastel paintings and color photographs. She has a strong following on social media (barbararachko.com, barbararachkoscoloreddust.com) and has written an e-book titled, From Pilot to Painter.
One of her paintings is called The Absence.