- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 15, 2001

Brenda Gibson sat in her Pentagon office writing an e-mail message to her family Tuesday morning.
"Stick together," she counseled.
"Watch over our parents," she admonished.
A hour later, her world exploded.
Mrs. Gibson, 59, of Falls Church, was scheduled for surgery next week. She was a veteran Pentagon employee. She was a daughter, a wife, a mother and a sister.
This week, she became one more name on a terrifying and expanding list of those missing after a plane smashed into the Pentagon, sending shards of despair into thousands of hearts.
"She spent some of her last moments getting the family comfortable with her surgery," said her brother-in-law, Wayne Johnson, of Silver Spring. "That was her. Her concern was for us."
Mr. Johnson and members of Mrs. Gibson's family went to the Pentagon Family Assistance Center in the Sheraton Crystal City Hotel yesterday, searching for her and for solace. They didn't find news of their relative. But they did find comfort and concern.
Another day at the assistance center was a repeat of Wednesday and Thursday. Cloudy eyes and quivering lips announced anguish before words. Hugs from volunteers in silent commiseration. Regret from military officials for scarce information. No one able to bear the past tense.
Family and friends of those missing continued to receive haunting briefings about bodies taken to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for identification. They weren't given any specifics about their loved ones' fates, though.
"Lieutenant General John A. Van Alstyne has been upfront with them," said Lt. David Gai, a Navy spokesman. "The operation is still in search mode. But there is no expectation that there are survivors."
By yesterday afternoon, 350 persons searching for 60 missing loved ones had used the center. Relatives continued to wander in, forlorn and lost, trying to make sense of lives rearranged.
More called. Volunteers wearing flag pins, ties and ribbons answered as many as 100 calls an hour from people frantic to ensure that friends, colleagues and relatives had escaped the fiery disaster unscathed.
At one point, a false alarm emptied the Sheraton while fire and police officials investigated. A woman carried by three men was wailing for "Jesus" in her despair. Another sagged against her male relative, unable to shoulder the heavy grief. A few minutes later, all returned inside, to counseling, spiritual ministering, therapy dogs, food, roses and a donated cake, decorated in the red, white and blue of Old Glory.
Across the river, hundreds mourned in prayer services and silent vigils for lives lost after four planes, used as missiles, rained devastation in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. President Bush spoke during a prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral. Family members of victims spoke hauntingly at other services around the region.
Some volunteers and relief professionals also took time out yesterday, to minister to their own wounded souls.
At American Red Cross headquarters in Northwest, employees and volunteers paused for a few words from their leader, Dr. Bernadine Healy, a moment of silence, and songs of solace. Relief workers spoke tearfully of their privilege at being allowed to help in this country's time of need — and their wish to be able to do more.
"The piles of rubble frame the unbearable loss," Dr. Healy said of her visit to New York City on Thursday.


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