- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

A sense of resignation is apparent in the words of rescuers, firefighters and soldiers recovering remains from the debris of Tuesday's suicide terrorist attack on the Pentagon. They still hold hope for a miracle that somehow a survivor will be found amid the destruction through which they walk daily.
But the thought that death was the destiny for 124 Pentagon personnel and 64 persons aboard American Airlines Flight 77 has only begun to settle in.
"When you have a chance to sit and think about it, it hits you," Arlington County firefighter Rudy Eversburg said.
Mr. Eversburg and fellow county firefighter Peter DePuy arrived at the Pentagon shortly after the 9:40 a.m. attack on the west side of the military complex on Tuesday. Until yesterday, both had waged a war with hoses filled with water and foam against a stubborn fire that still flared up from time to time.
Now the two are stationed in a tent city in the Pentagon's south parking area. There they provide support services to rescuers inside the collapsed section of the building, making sure they have everything they need to do their jobs in recovering remains and gathering evidence for the FBI.
Under beautiful blue skies and surrounded by large vehicles brimming with food, water and supplies, the two firefighters are leagues from the hellish interior of the damaged Pentagon, where Mr. Eversburg said standing on hot concrete is akin to standing in the fire itself.
"It's a lot of trying to block things out," Mr. DePuy said of coping with the gruesome images he and hundreds of others have witnessed since Tuesday.
Keeping busy helps them maintain their sanity, the firefighters said. It keeps them from thinking about their families in homes not far from where they toil.
"If you're focused on your job and you're trying to do your job, it's almost a salvation," Mr. Eversburg said. "No matter how horrific it may get, the thought of not doing your job never enters your mind."
The two firefighters count their blessings that they escaped by minutes from being trapped in the five-floor collapse of the damaged Pentagon "wedge." They watched the collapse from a distance of about 100 feet.
A young man who is a member of the mortuary services team from the 54th Quartermaster Company based in Fort Lee, Va., said the task of removing charred remains can take its toll.
"You come across things and you just have to step aside and have a moment to yourself," said the man, who asked not to be identified.
Since Wednesday, the Fort Lee group has removed remains and taken them 15 miles to Fort Belvoir, where they then are transferred to Delaware's Dover Air Force Base for forensics testing.
The man wore a yellow hard hat with the words "Dignity, Reverence, Respect" printed in white on a black strip on one side and "May those who died rest in peace" on the other.
He said he would not change his lot in life for anything because he feels he is helping families. "In all honesty, it's the best job you can get."
Lt. Mark D. Stone, spokesman for the 68-member Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue Task Force of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, said his crews' hopes for survivors is slipping.
"Physically and emotionally, they are showing signs of wear and tear," Lt. Stone said of crews that work the 12-hour night shift alongside 70 urban search and rescue task force members from Virginia Beach.
Because the attack occurred in the Fairfax team's back yard, instead of some distant place like Turkey or even Oklahoma City, rescuers find it difficult sometimes to stay focused, knowing their families are nearby, Lt. Stone said.
Discipline of mind ultimately remains, he said, since the rescuers know they have a job to do.
Lt. Stone said his crews know everyone still underneath the estimated 350 million pounds of rubble is probably dead.
But those crew members are not really thinking logically — they believe there is a way someone could stay alive, even after six days without food, water or medical care.
"We may be putting that [train of thought] into our mind to keep us going," Lt. Stone said.

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