Family members visit crash site Sept. 15

by Rudi Williams

WASHINGTON � They watched Sept. 15 as huge cranes and workmen slowly sorted through and removed tons of debris a little bit at a time from the huge hole where a jetliner slammed into the Pentagon Sept. 11.

Some of the visitors gasped in horror. Some screamed in emotional agony. Some legs gave way, and people had to be helped back to their feet. Some stood motionless with their eyes fixed on the gaping hole that, a week ago, had been offices where their loved ones had worked.

They were families, loved ones and friends of military and civilian personnel who worked in or near the devastated areas of the building and who are listed as unaccounted for.

Holding hands and clinging to each other, they created a makeshift memorial by stacking bouquets of flowers, mementos, family photographs and red, white and blue balloons on a flatbed truck parked near the Pentagon crash site.

Their visit to the site had been partly prompted by questions and requests from family members during some of the twice-daily briefings conducted at the Family (Casualty) Assistance Center at the Crystal City Sheraton Hotel in Arlington, Va., according to Defense Department spokesman Navy LT Dave Guy.

"Among the questions was, �Will we have a chance to see the crash site?�" Guy noted. "The answer was always, �Yes, that�s our intention.� We took nearly 350 family members, loved ones, volunteers and staff members to the site. Some family members didn�t go because they didn�t think they could deal with seeing the crash site."

Guy said there was a dramatic change in many of the family members and loved ones after they visited the crash site.

"On the way back, I noticed that some of them were a little more at peace," he said, adding that seeing the crash site may have helped some people get past the denial stage.

"But that�s still a long way from closure," he admitted.

10/22/01 update:

The total number of persons unaccounted for or known dead is 189, including the 64 passengers and crew who perished aboard the hijacked airliner. As of Oct. 22, 118 remains had been recovered and sent to Dover AFB, Del., for identification. All 118 have been identified.

11/13/01 update:

The Defense Department confirmed today that two more remains had been recovered and identified, bringing the number of unaccounted-for victims who have been positively identified to 120.

Mr. Williams writes for American Forces Press Service.

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