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Families of 9/11 Victims Visit War-Wounded Patients

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2004 – When Ginny Bauer walked into the room of a patient recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here from wounds suffered in Iraq, she immediately started sobbing and wiping away the heavy flow of tears from her reddened cheeks with a dampened white handkerchief.

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Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, second from left, poses with Sept. 11 family members who came from New York City to visit patients at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. From the left are John Vigiano, Wolfowitz, and Dennis O'Berg. Photo by Rudi Williams

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Professing not to be a crier, Bauer said, "I was just overcome with emotions. Just seeing that young boy, laying there and just trying to envision what he went through the moment he was injured and the fact that he was in Iraq defending our country just brought a wave of emotions over me."

Bauer was at Walter Reed Dec. 15 with four others who lost loved ones during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The group consisted of Bill Butler, whose son, Tom, was a firefighter; Dennis O'Berg, whose son, Dennis Jr., also was a firefighter; John Vigiano, who lost two sons: John, a firefighter, and Joe, who was a detective in the New York Police Department; Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which slammed into the Pentagon; and Christy Ferer, who lost her husband, Neil Levin.

The group was here to visit wounded servicemembers from Iraq and Afghanistan who are being treated at Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also visited and chatted with patients at Walter Reed Dec. 15.

Bauer said she couldn't help being emotional as an American citizen and as a woman who lost her husband to an act of terrorism. "And probably more significantly as a mother, because I have two boys that age," said Bauer, the secretary of commerce for the state of New Jersey. "It's just very emotional. I don't see how anybody could look at a young man that way and not feel a wave of emotion."

Bauer, Ferer and Vigiano went to Baghdad, Iraq, in June 2003 to personally thank servicemembers for what they're doing in Iraq. They traveled to Iraq on Fathers Day as part of a group of celebrities that took an Armed Forces Entertainment Office and United Service Organizations-sponsored trip to Iraq to show support for the servicemembers.

"When I went to Iraq, I was amazed, touched and struck by many emotions," Bauer noted. "I remember the first time I walked in and saw those soldiers, I broke down and cried."

Noting that she's the special assistant and liaison to families of victims of Sept. 11 for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Ferer said the visit to Walter Reed and Bethesda is a natural follow-up to the trip to Iraq.

"Now that those who have made these sacrifices are back on our land, it's easy to visit them and give our thanks (to) tell them that we think of them every day and that they lift our hearts," said Ferer, who New York Gov. George Pataki appointed to the Board of Directors of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the agency responsible for rebuilding and revitalizing Lower Manhattan. She's also a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

"This is when they need it," Ferer continued. "They're back here. They've made their sacrifices, and now they have to live the rest of their lives with these memories every single day."

She said her father, Army Lt. Richard Ferer, lost his leg in World War II's Battle of the Bulge, which started 60 years ago this week. "I relate directly to these guys who are around the same age and made the same kind of sacrifice that my father did," she said. "So for me, it was important to come here and say they will now be role models for evermore, for their children, their community and anyone who ever comes in touch with them or (to tell them to) remember that they wear their wounds as badges, badges of heroism.

"You are living examples in the embodiment of the will to go on, and we love you very much," Ferer told the wounded troops.

Ferer said the group visited servicemembers in Iraq and at Walter Reed and Bethesda to let them know that "on behalf of all the people who lost loved ones in 9/11, you're our heroes."

"We think of you every day. You lift our hearts. We personally think you're there avenging us and doing the right thing," she said. "There has been so much controversy about this war, so let me be perfectly clear -- this is the right war at the right time for the right reasons, and you're our heroes."

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Related Sites:
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
National Naval Medical Center

Click photo for screen-resolution image Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, right, chats with Sept. 11 widows Christy Ferer, left, and Ginny Bauer after their arrival at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit war-wounded patients from Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo by Rudi Williams   
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