- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Funeral directors can only shake their heads when someone says it won't be long before people recover from the suicide-terrorist attack on the Pentagon that claimed so many lives. Why? Because they know it is not true.
Experience has taught them that the grieving will get worse in the coming days, if only because there will be upwards of 200 funerals here — and the last of the dead may not be buried until mid-October.
Caravans of limousines and police escorts will become familiar as each family buries a loved one, as will the sound of a bugle and rifle fire when the military begins to bury more than 90 fallen officers.
"We all know there can't be any moving on or healing until the families pay their last respects," says John DeVol, owner of DeVol Funeral Services. And this closure will not happen any time soon.
It will take more than two weeks before the remains of the 188 victims — military and civilian — are sent back from the huge mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, which is identifying and embalming all of the local dead.
The recovery of bodies and evidence is expected to take at least 10 more days, says Arlington County Fire Chief Ed Plaugher. Still missing as of yesterday are 33 navy officers, nine navy civilian workers, 74 army personnel, eight defense department employees and eight visitors.
Meanwhile, Mr. DeVol and other funeral directors, florists and chauffeurs wait to play their part in helping families lay their loved ones to rest.
It is a grisly wait in many ways, if only because of what must be done to identify many of the corpses. Over the weekend, recovery workers encountered for the first time a large number of bodies clustered together. They continued to pull remains from the wreckage Sunday afternoon as they dug deeper into the site of impact.
Forensic teams are now piecing bone and tooth fragments together and searching near the bodies for personal effects or tattoos that, when matched against a description given them by family members, will yield a name. As in war, it is unthinkable to bury the nameless. This belief has spurred on rescue workers. They are exhausted. New crews have spelled them. The Herculean effort to dig until every last body has been found continues.
Some things are beyond both muscle and science, however. The 64 passengers aboard the aircraft that smashed into the Pentagon were all but pulverized by the impact and the explosions, officials say. Their remains have not been sent to the Dover mortuary as yet. It would be pointless, says Mr. Devol.
Death on such a scale is not rare to this region, home of the country's armed services, but the death of so many civilians who live here is rare. The last civilian disaster occurred in 1982 when 78 passengers and crew members and four commuters died after an airliner crashed into the 14th Street bridge.
Carson Robbins, director of Military Funeral Services in Chantilly, Va., had to think back to the fall of 1983, when more than 300 Marines died in a truck bomb attack on their barracks in Beruit, Lebanon, to find a point of comparison. Based on his experience, he can only counsel patience to all families.
"It is going to take time; just like [in 1983] it will be a long process and possibly longer than [usual] in this case," Mr. Robbins said.
"The military has not returned any of the remains of its personnel to relatives," said Sgt. Major Gareth Hilton. Some bodies may be flown back from Dover by the end of next week, but he makes no guarantees.
Members of his military mortuary unit place the remains found by Pentagon rescue workers in black body bags. The bags are then driven to Andrews Air Force Base and flown to Dover for final identification.
The men in the unit take their satisfaction where they can get it — just knowing they were bringing peace and comfort to victims' families, they say.
The staff at Military Funeral Services is finding it hard to accept the mass killings, if only because at any moment the mortuary unit may come upon someone they knew.
"We are still wondering if any of our friends were killed," Mr. Robbins said.
"We see death a lot in our business, but hardly ever like this, and certainly not under these circumstances," he said.
Unlike funeral directors, who will soon be both soothing and serving grieving families, the soldiers assigned to Mr. Robbins will probably never see a civilian family. They will simply determine which officers receive standard-honors burials and which receive full honors, Mr. Robbins said.
Standard burials always include a bugler, 21-gun salute and military honor guard; the funeral services are always held grave-side. The bodies of those accorded full honors will be driven to their graves on the bed of a horse-drawn carriage, and services will be performed inside Fort Meyer Chapel.
"Arlington National Cemetery will only do 27 burials, standard and full honors, per day, but our staff is absolutely devastated," so that number may change, said Mr. Robbins.

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