Three attacks, ten years of healing: A sense of loss at the Pentagon 

click to enlarge This file photo shows Lisa T. Dolan as she poses for a photograph on the bench which bears the name of her late husband, Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan Jr., who died Sept. 11, 2001, in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The bench is one of 184 benches at the Pentagon Memorial. The Pentagon was the first of the three attack sites to open an official memorial. It was dedicated Sept. 11, 2008, and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) - THIS FILE PHOTO SHOWS LISA T. DOLAN AS SHE POSES FOR A PHOTOGRAPH ON THE BENCH WHICH BEARS THE NAME OF HER LATE HUSBAND, NAVY CAPT. ROBERT E. DOLAN JR., WHO DIED SEPT. 11, 2001, IN THE TERRORIST ATTACK ON THE PENTAGON IN ARLINGTON, VA. THE BE
  • This file photo shows Lisa T. Dolan as she poses for a photograph on the bench which bears the name of her late husband, Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan Jr., who died Sept. 11, 2001, in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The be
  • This file photo shows Lisa T. Dolan as she poses for a photograph on the bench which bears the name of her late husband, Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan Jr., who died Sept. 11, 2001, in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The bench is one of 184 benches at the Pentagon Memorial. The Pentagon was the first of the three attack sites to open an official memorial. It was dedicated Sept. 11, 2008, and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Ten years ago, 11-year-old Bernard Curtis Brown Jr. was packing his bags for a school trip to southern California.

United Airlines flight attendant Michele Heidenberger was celebrating her 57th birthday with her family before making the same West Coast trip.

And at the Pentagon, Angie Houtz, 27, was just getting settled in her new office on the west side of the building.



It was Sept. 11, 2001, the last day of each of their lives. Brown, Heidenberger and Houtz were three of the 184 people who perished when terrorist hijacked United Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles International Airport and crashed it into the west side of the Pentagon.

Those left behind to pick up the pieces say the 10th anniversary of that attack on Sunday doesn’t change anything.

“It’s just another day dealing with the loss of a loved one,” said Tom Heidenberger, Michele’s husband.

Jim Laychak, whose brother Dave was a Pentagon employee, said 10 years was no different from nine or eight.

“The anniversary always does bring everything back though,” he said.

That Tuesday morning was one of confusion followed by despair for friends and families as they followed the news of the attacks and then learned their loved ones’ fate.

Clementine Homesley, who was principal of Leckie Elementary School where Brown attended, said she heard the plane crash that morning but thought the noise came from a loud construction project on Interstate 295.

Then Gwendolyn Faulkner called from the National Geographic Society, which was sponsoring the Brown’s trip.

“She wanted to know if I was sitting down,” said Homesley, who at the time thought Brown was halfway to California.

“I screamed — that was my worst nightmare, the farthest thing from my mind,” she said. “I needed to collect myself. I ran into my office; I totally emotionally lost it.”

Stacey Baugh, Houtz’s college roommate and best friend, said she wasn’t sure where Houtz’s office had been moved a week before. On the morning of Sept. 12, Baugh went to work, unable to stay home and worry, when her husband called to tell her the news.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what he said,” Baugh said. “I do remember putting my head down. And then going home.”

Heidenberger was watching the footage of the World Trade Center attacks in New York when a friend from United Airlines called. It was 9:05 a.m., just after United Airflines Flight 77 was hijacked.

“They said something’s happened with Michele’s plane,” Heidenberger said.

Her plane hit the Pentagon 32 minutes later.

Over the years, those left behind have coped by memorializing their friends and family. Heidenberger and Laychak helped establish the Pentagon Memorial located at the site of the crash. Scholarships were set up in the names of many victims, including Houtz and Brown.

Baugh took over sponsoring a girl in El Salvador that Houtz had begun sponsoring through Compassion International a month before.

Baugh now has two children, both born after 9/11. But her best friend is still a part of their lives.

“The movie Grease was on TV this weekend and [my son] said, ‘That’s Aunti Angie’s favorite movie,’” Baugh said. “He’s six, he’s never met her. But we talk about her all the time.”

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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