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Teddy Bears Help Victim's Families Cope With Losses

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 20, 2001 – Whenever there is a disaster anywhere in the world, members of Good Bears of the World leave their dens to pass out teddy bears to victims and their loved ones.

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Imran A. Khan, 13, and his great-aunt, Liz Klein, cuddle teddy bears during a visit to DoD's Family (Casualty) Assistance Center in Arlington, Va. Members of the Good Bears of the World's Giving Paws Den of Arlington passed out dozens of the bears to the families and loved ones of victims of the terrorist airliner crash at the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001. Khan's mother, Norma Khan, was a passenger on the plane. Photo by Rudi Williams.

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"The bears are for anyone who is traumatized, it doesn't matter who they are or how old they are," said Dawn Murati of the Giving Paws Den of Arlington. "Our aim is to just give love and comfort where love is needed."

Murati and other den members visited DoD's Family (Casualty) Assistance Center recently to pass out cuddly brown teddy bears to families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

"They take that bear and hug it," she noted. "Words can't describe the therapeutic value in a teddy bear. They give unconditional love. People have something they can hold on to that's warm and fuzzy. You can tell all your troubles to a bear and they don't talk back or tell anybody. They're just absolutely wonderful."

The Giving Paws Den had 14 dozen bears on hand when terrorist hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. Den members took two dozen to Arlington Hospital for hospitalized victims and delivered the rest to the center. The bears proved so popular that the den ordered 12 dozen more.

The power of teddy bears was evident by the reactions of Liz Klein of Houston. Even though she was crying as she looked at pictures of her niece, Norma C. Khan, she managed a smile as she clung to three teddy bears. She'd gathered the bears for other family members, nearly 20 of whom had converged on the center from around the country.

"I cry for everybody," Klein said, wiping tears from her eyes. "When I see another person on TV or a picture in a newspaper, I shed tears. It's very painful."

Klein was with Khan's son, Imran, 13, who hadn't known his mother was aboard Flight 77. Cuddling two bears, the boy said he was shocked at the news.

"At first I didn't believe it," said Khan, an eighth grader at Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston, Va. "It took a awhile to get over the fact that she has passed away. But I realize that she has gone to a better place. She didn't die a torturous death, it was a quick death."

"Teddy bears do so much good, even when it's not in a therapeutic atmosphere," Murati said. "There are no words to describe the smile you get whenever you give someone a bear and they hold it for the first time. Teddy bears just melt people."

When Murati and her group of bear givers arrived at the assistance center, a volunteer asked whether they thought men would take them.

Murati responded by pointing out that retired Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, took a bear to the Persian Gulf with him.

"I know the lady that made his bear," she noted. "'Radar' on the television show MASH had his teddy bear all the time. I've given bears to crusty old men who said, 'Not me, I don't want a bear!' Then they've called me back later and said, 'I've changed my mind. Everybody wants my bear, but they can't have it!'"

Then there was the time the group gave teddy bears to the police department of Alexandria, Va. The chief took one and said, "This one's going on my desk and nobody gets it!"

Murati said giving teddy bears to victim's families this time has been special to her because her husband, Army Col. George Murati, works in the Pentagon. She said he's lucky because his office used to be close to the crash site.

Her husband works for the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs and, until his office moved in July, he worked only about 14 windows away from the impact zone, she said.

"He was luckily out of the building when it all happened," Murati said. "So being able to help in this small way is even more special to me."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDawn Murati (left) says teddy bears can melt the hearts of even "crusty old men." She and her friends delivered dozens of teddy bears to the families and loved ones of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. With Murati is Debbie Mueller, a Washington psychotherapist who is volunteering at the DoD Family (Casualty) Assistance Center in Arlington, Va. Photo by Rudi Willliams.  
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