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Tennis Pro Donates Event Proceeds to Pentagon Memorial Fund

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2003 – Michele Heidenberger enjoyed tennis. The lead flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 77 and 183 others lost their lives when the hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001.

In honor of her sister-in-law's memory and others who perished that fateful day, tennis pro Betsy Heidenberger donated the proceeds of a tennis tournament/silent auction to the Pentagon Memorial Fund here today.

Heidenberger said she was unaware of the Pentagon Memorial Fund and efforts to raise funds for it until she read an article in the local paper. From that point, she said she knew what she had to do -- she was on a mission. "I always wanted to do something for Michele," she said.

The tennis instructor began her project in July by visiting local businesses and asking for donations for the silent auction. She collected more than 100 items -- everything from $5 ice cream coupons to airline tickets. "The response was unbelievable," she said. "I hardly ever got turned down."

The Oct. 26 event at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va., netted $35,000. "It was not work at all for me," she said. "It was a fantastic event. The response was awesome. Everybody had a blast and we know Michele was there swinging away with us."

The Pentagon Memorial Fund also received donations - totaling nearly $15,000 -- from Tom O'Rourke, vice president and director of operations, Fort America; Jullian Irving Grante, artist; and Janelle Hogan of the Sine Irish Pub and Restaurant.

The Fort America Foundation takes certain projects and donates proceeds to worthwhile endeavors, said O'Rourke. "We felt our first project would absolutely be the Pentagon Memorial," he added.

The first program found the Pentagon concession selling signed, limited-edition prints of Rick Herter's "First Pass, Defenders Over Washington." The painting is part of the Air Force art collection. It portrays Maj. Dean Eckmann from the North Dakota Air National Guard's 119th Fighter Wing, flying his F-16 over the burning Pentagon. Herter planned to return to Fort America Nov. 24 to sign more copies of his prints. Proceeds will go the Pentagon Memorial.

O'Rourke said Fort America's executive vice president, Natalie Gustafson, lost friends and loved ones that fateful day. "She finds it an honor to have the opportunity to help with the Pentagon Memorial," he said.

An Air Force veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, artist Grante said he was in a hospital bed recuperating from 11 months of chemotherapy as he watched the tragic events of Sept. 11 unfold. He said he started to write something that day but didn't get back to it until earlier this year. To date, he's sold 10,000 copies of his limited edition print "The Day Our Towers Fell." The former Pentagon employee said he decided to donate 25 percent of proceeds from each print sold to the Pentagon Memorial Fund.

"I hope this tribute will help the memorial fund and be an encouragement to the family members," he added. "But most importantly, I wrote this so we'll never forget the sacrifices that were made on that day."

His voice quivered as he read the first stanza, "America will never forget that bright September day. When pain, death and suffering came, as terrorism had its way. All across the nation our flag flew brave and high. Symbolizing liberty against the early morning sky."

The Pentagon Memorial will feature184 lighted benches, one dedicated to each victim. It will be built on nearly two acres near the spot where the attack occurred on the Pentagon.

The benches will be made of "cast, clear anodized aluminum polyester," according to a DoD news release. They will be positioned according to the victims' ages, from 3 to 71. Each will have a glowing light pool set underneath. The memorial will also feature trees to provide shading and a more intimate atmosphere.

Construction will be funded by private donations. It will be completed about 20 months after enough funding is available to begin the first phase. The amount needed to begin work is $1.5 million. Money raised to date is $500,000.

More information is available at the Pentagon Memorial Fund Web site. Mail donations to P.O. Box 6285, Arlington, Va. 22206.

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