- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

Floyd Rasmussen sat with one arm around his daughter in the front pew of his Prince William church yesterday, his wife absent but for the black-and-white photo of her pinned to his suit.
Though he would shed many tears throughout the day, Mr. Rasmussen says his grief over losing his wife, Rhonda, in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon has been eased by an extensive church support system — and his conviction that someday the two will be reunited through the atonement of Christ.
"The promises have been made. The hopes for the future are unparalleled. I will join Rhonda again," a weeping Mr. Rasmussen, 59, said in an interview at the Lake Ridge Chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mr. Rasmussen also works at the Pentagon, not far from the point of impact, but escaped unharmed. If the plane had come in higher and to the right, he said, Rhonda, 44, would be telling this story.
Around the region yesterday, religious leaders sought to ease pain and bring the week's events into perspective.
Near Gaithersburg, Senior Pastor C.J. Mahaney told about 2,000 worshippers at the Covenant Life Church that the Bible gives responsibility to President Bush, as "the one in authority," to see that justice is done.
"There is an evil that can be restrained only by the state's sword, and the president holds it," Mr. Mahaney said. "May he never know a day when we don't pray for him."
In Alexandria, Pastor Gary Charles said numerous members of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House lost family, friends and colleagues. About 1,000 people attended his morning service.
"Last week our reality was shaken," Skip Baird, a bishop's assistant, told his congregation at the Lake Ridge chapel. "In a few infamous moments, the hopes and dreams of many were washed away in a sea of grief and horror, and many are still reeling in disbelief."
The church, attended by many Pentagon employees, lost two members on Tuesday. Brady Howell, a young naval employee and Crystal City resident, also died, but his wife did not want to talk about her loss.
"The wife has just not come to grips with it. She wants to see a body," Mr. Baird said after the service. "You expect to spend the rest of your life with someone. It's hard to accept."
Mr. Rasmussen took a different approach, insisting that he wanted his family's story to be known.
Rhonda Sue Ridge was born Oct. 18, 1956, in Loma Linda, Calif. She married Mr. Rasmussen in the Los Angeles Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Nov. 23, 1974.
She followed him around the world, through 27 moves in the nearly 27 years of their marriage.
"When I looked at Floyd and Rhonda, I knew that they were madly in love," Mr. Baird said.
Mr. Rasmussen raised four children — sons Nathan, Jeremiah and Thaddeus, and daughter Rebekkah — while working for the Army as a budget analyst. He has received several civilian service awards.
"You can see her vibrance in her pictures," said Dawn Simpson, who has coordinated food drop-offs and other help for the Rasmussens as part of the church's Relief Society.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Rasmussen was in her office at "ground zero," where American Airlines Flight 77 out of Washington Dulles International Airport struck the Pentagon.
Mr. Rasmussen, himself a civilian analyst, was working two levels higher and some distance from the crash site.
"When the aircraft impacted the building, it staggered me," Mr. Rasmussen said.
He looked out the windows, seeing flames and debris. He thought it was a package bomb, but soon realized such a bomb would not have "jarred the whole building."
A military official gave the evacuation order and Mr. Rasmussen joined large crowds being herded into the center quad, then to the outside of the Pentagon.
"I was calling for Rhonda," he said. "I started wandering around and, you know, 'Rhonda, here I am. Come find me, I'm waiting for you, dear. Please find me. I am frightened, so very frightened.'"
Mr. Rasmussen caught a ride with a stranger to his home in Woodbridge. He went inside and hugged Rebekkah.
"I just sat and I watched TV thinking the whole time that my mother would be fine and I was most worried about my father," said Rebekkah, 19. "When I opened the door and saw my father standing there, I immediately threw my arms open and gave him a great big hug."
Church members arrived at midnight. They have since handled everything from mowing the lawn to arranging a memorial service at the church on Wednesday night. Mr. Baird helped out with the dog.
As for morale at the church, members insist their sadness is joined by a "sure knowledge" that death is "just another door to pass" through.
"We've recently had another member of our congregation die just a couple of weeks ago of cancer, and we rallied around that," Mr. Baird said. "We have another one who's dying of cancer right now. So death is nothing new. We view death as part of the process of living."
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.

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