- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

Floyd Rasmussen stood outside the Victims Family Assistance Center in Crystal City, Va., a tall, proud military man, one of many bowed yesterday by a growing force of hopelessness.
"I hoped for a miracle," Mr. Rasmussen said of his Tuesday search for his wife, Rhonda, after a plane slammed into the Pentagon.
"I tried to keep faith," he said Wednesday of his vigil for her.
But yesterday, reality overpowered hope.
"Her office took a direct hit," he said.
And so went an untold number of stories yesterday as dragging days began to drown dreams that sisters and mothers, fathers and husbands, daughters and sons still survived.
The sparkling, sunny day intensified the pain of their loss.
Mr. Rasmussen, a Vietnam veteran and management analyst for the Pentagon, was among 150 people whose search for information about relatives led them to temporary quarters in the Sheraton where the Pentagon was trying to provide relief. There, military officials answer questions, counselors give support and clerics offer faith.
Still, there is little anyone can do to assuage the agonizing and seemingly endless wait for the confirmation about the life or death of their loved ones.
"We want to be able to answer the question almost as badly as they want it answered," Maj. Ben Owens, a spokesman for the center, said yesterday. "But getting it right is more important."
The families say they understand. But stricken eyes speak of dashed hopes after briefings by military officials. There, talk turned to recovery of the victims' bodies, which will be taken to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for identification. The path to closure will take days, weeks, perhaps months.
The horror began so innocuously. Mr. Rasmussen, who works 200 yards away from the site of the crash, said phone lines started to die. Then an explosion threw him against a wall. After evacuating the building, he scanned the crowds for his wife, her colleagues, anyone who could tell him where she was. She must have gone home, he thought.
But she wasn't at their Woodbridge home.
She will come walking through that door with her planner and lunch cooler at any minute, he told himself. We'll kiss, we'll cry and we'll get over it, he repeated.
But Rhonda Rasmussen didn't come home. Her husband went to the Pentagon. No sign of the 45-year-old budget analyst. He called their four children, spread out around the country. He procrastinated, then made another more agonizing call — to his mother-in-law, who had lost another daughter two years ago. He thought about undeveloped pictures of their March trip to Barcelona. He called her voice mail to hear her voice.
And he steeled himself for the visit.
It came at 10 a.m. yesterday — military officials informing him that his beloved wife was officially missing. A euphemism for dead, he thought.
"I will continue to wait for the formality," he said. "In my heart, I accept."
These days, Mr. Rasmussen wears his wife's name tag from her 25th high school reunion last fall. He wears it crooked, a small gesture to a life tilted. The tag shows a picture of the 1974 graduate, a smiling titian-haired girl, about to embrace adulthood.
Three Army tours of Europe, a neighborhood dance that led to 27 years of marriage, four children and plans to move back to their native California in October, preceded a sunny day that shredded her family's world.
"I am going to spend the rest of my life celebrating hers," her husband said, choking.
Nearby, others carry the same tense tales and wear their memories and pain. A woman who recalls her doting stepmother taking care of her during a difficult pregnancy; two daughters, a brother, a husband and an 11-year-old grandson, showing a framed family picture of a time before their faces became chiseled by grief.
The family of 49-year-old Brenda Kegler, a budget analyst at the Pentagon for 30 years, is losing hope. It has been days since the family has spoken with the Capitol Heights resident. It seems like a lifetime, they say.
"We just came here to find out," said Sonya Rush, her stepdaughter. "The chance [of her living] seems like it is getting slimmer and slimmer."
Ms. Rush details her frantic calls to her stepmother's phone line, a brother's combing of hospitals, a daughter's midnight search of the Pentagon grounds, a husband's desperate 12-hour drive north from Florida hoping his wife would be found.
Then there are those who suffered, yet volunteered to help others at the crisis center. Kristin Taylor, 42, of Great Falls, Va., said a force greater than herself brought her from her home to Crystal City to volunteer. Yesterday, she answered hot-line phones, steered families to chaplains, offered tissues and caresses to the grieving at briefings: "The news was very lurid, very grisly" she said, her face trembling as she declined to elaborate on specifics. "There is nothing we can say to make everything OK."
Mrs. Taylor, an author, easily related to the bereaved. She lost someone herself, she said during the interview, her voice breaking until she could speak no further about it.
It is irrelevant whether one had a friend or relative killed Tuesday because there are "six degrees of separation," she said.
"We will know someone who knows someone who knows someone who was there on those planes, in the Pentagon, at the World Trade Center," she said. "That's what brings us together."


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