Family Members, Loved Ones Visit Pentagon Crash Site
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2001 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 on 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.
Melina and Todd Leisure visit the Pentagon crash site with their twins, Kyle and Ryan, 3. Her brother, Army employee Eddie Rowenhurst, is still missing. Photo by Rudi Williams
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
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 two daily briefings conducted at the Family (Casualty) Assistance Center at the Crystal City Sheraton Hotel in Arlington, Va., according to DoD spokesman Navy Lt. Dave Gai.
"Among the questions was, 'Will we have a chance to see the crash site?'' Gai 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."
Gai 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.
En route to the crash site, Army Lt. Gen. John A. Van Alstyne, the assistance center's director, stood beside the bus driver and told him: "Thank you for coming out on short notice. This is some important work you're doing today. These are some of the most important people you've driven in a long time."
The total number of persons unaccounted for or known dead is 188, including the 64 passengers and crew who perished aboard the hijacked airliner. As of Sept. 16, 88 remains had been recovered and transported to Dover Air Force Base, Del., for identification.