Life goes on, but memories remain fresh for 9/11 survivors 10 years later

Beatriz "Pat" Hymel Lipinski, who was widowed when her husband Lt. Col. Robert J. Hymel was killed at the Pentagon, searches the attic for a photograph of him at her home. She married Ed Lipinski in the years since the attack and they live in Mathews, Va. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)Beatriz “Pat” Hymel Lipinski, who was widowed when her husband Lt. Col. Robert J. Hymel was killed at the Pentagon, searches the attic for a photograph of him at her home. She married Ed Lipinski in the years since the attack and they live in Mathews, Va. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)
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When the constant rewind of the airplanes slamming into buildings, fireballs and faces stricken with grief became overwhelming, most of the world could at least turn off the TV or put down a newspaper. But for those directly affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, those images remain as constant and vivid as the warm, sunny day on which they occurred.

Over the past 10 years, and most recently last month, The Washington Times has been invited into the homes and the lives of five such people connected to the attack on the Pentagon.

An ordinary life

As the sun set across central Pennsylvania one a recent August evening, Daniel C. Pfeilstucker Jr. watched his two youngest children scramble among the waist-high tomato plants in his garden.

Jessica and Daniel C. Pfielstucker Jr. tend to their garden with their children, Haley and Ben, in Duncansville, Pa. Mr. Pfielstucker was a contractor working inside the Pentagon and managed to free himself from the rubble. "It got scary quiet," he recalled. "Then people started screaming for help." (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

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Jessica and Daniel C. Pfielstucker Jr. tend to their garden with their ... more >

It’s an ordinary scene for many people, but for Mr. Pfeilstucker, it’s another reminder of what might not have been had he died when American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon at 9:40 a.m.

“It’s always in the back of my mind,” he said. “It could have been me. It could have been the alternative.”

Seconds before the attack, Mr. Pfeilstucker, who was working for a mechanical contracting company, stepped off a second-floor elevator about 40 feet from where the jet hit. The force blew Mr. Pfeilstucker down the hall and into a small telephone closet.

“It got scary quiet,” he recalled. “Then people started screaming for help. I realized I was never going to see my child [Tori] again. It was just survival instinct that kicked in.”

Mr. Pfeilstucker estimates that it took him 15 minutes to fight his way out of the closet and run down stairs to get out of the burning building, a feat he credits to the guiding spirit of a young relative who died in an accident two months earlier.

Today, Mr. Pfeilstucker, 39, along with wife Jessica, 38, daughter Tori, 11, daughter Haley, 8, and 5-year-old son Ben live in Duncansville, Pa., having moved from suburban Maryland seven years ago to escape the crowded city, the constant reminders of that day and for an opportunity to spend more time boating, camping and grilling in their backyard fire pit.

Memories such as the smell of jet fuel and the “what-if” scenarios aren’t easy to ignore, but Mr. Pfeilstucker said talking about them helps.

Asked what he will do for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Mr. Pfeilstucker said he was asked by a friend at work to speak at his church.

A new tattoo on Mr. Pfeilstucker’s left bicep reminds him of the loss and life on that day.

“I’m glad I did it,” he said of the tattoo, a combination of a five-sided American flag overlaid by a 9-shaped gash and an 11 created by silhouettes of the World Trade Center towers.

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