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Signing Event Supports Pentagon Memorial Fund

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2003 – Air Force Lt. Col. Pam Hodge remembers the immediate sense of calm she felt when she heard the roar of the first fully armed F-16 fighter jet to arrive at the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

"I felt like a little kid hearing his mother's voice," said Hodge, assigned to the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force. "All of us were so confused and so unsure of what was happening. But somehow, when I heard that engine roar overhead, I knew that everything was going to be OK. Just hearing that plane calmed me right down."

So moved was Hodge by that moment that she joined hundreds of coworkers at the Pentagon today to purchase a limited-edition print of "First Pass, Defenders Over Washington," signed by the artist, Rick Herter. The event was sponsored by Fort America, a Pentagon concession, with all proceeds to benefit the Pentagon Memorial Fund.

The painting, part of the Air Force art collection, portrays Air Force Maj. Dean Eckmann from the North Dakota National Guard's 119th Fighter Wing as his F- 16 screamed over a burning Pentagon.

Also offered for sale were signed, numbered prints of Herter's "Ground Zero, Eagles on Station." That painting depicts Air Force Lt. Col. Tim Duffy from the Massachusetts National Guard's 102nd Fighter Wing, the first F-15 pilot to reach the World Trade Center site on 9-11 to lock down the airspace over Manhattan.

While sales for both prints were steady, buyers at the Pentagon event tended to favor the Pentagon print, because they said they felt such a personal connection to it.

Like Hodge, Army Lt. Col. Tom Cleary from the Army G1 (Personnel) staff remembers feeling tremendous relief on 9-11 when he watched Eckmann's aircraft streak overhead. "As bad as everything seemed at the moment, seeing that plane showed that we were able to react and that we were doing the right thing."

Cleary said he plans to hang the print at home to serve as a constant reminder of the lessons of 9-11, "as much for my kids as for myself." That lesson: "Don't ever take anything for granted," he said. "This will be a constant reminder, something for me to pass on to my children."

Air Force Capt. Robert Birchum, who had been assigned to Air Force Intelligence for just three months on 9-11, said he particularly likes the print because it shows American response at one of the country's difficult moments. "It shows our vulnerability, but it also shows our strength," he said. "Those pilots were ready to engage anything they encountered. To me, this painting represents our fortitude how we're still here standing strong, even after such a tragic event."

"It shows America regrouping in our very best tradition, a tradition that goes way back to the Minutemen," agreed Navy Capt. Chris Noble from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. "When the unexpected happen, America was ready to respond, and it was the citizen warriors who were the first to do so."

Jim Laychak, president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund, Inc., thanked Herter for his support for the fundraising effort. Profits from the sale will go toward the $20 million needed to build and maintain the Pentagon Memorial.

"It's great to be part of something like this," said Laychak, whose brother, David, was among 184 people killed in the Pentagon attack. "It's one more step toward reaching our goal so we can move forward with the memorial," he said.

"I want to preserve something for my family, for the other families, for the nation. I look at this as a gift to the people that are left behind."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Navy Caot, Chris Noble, left, chats with artist Rick Herter at a Pentagon signing event. Photo by Donna Miles  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Pam Hodge, left, purchases a copy of the painting, "First Pass, Defenders Over Washington," signed by artist Rick Herter. Photo by Donna Miles  
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