- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Families from California, New Jersey and New York came to the Pentagon yesterday to watch as two men received the nation's highest civilian awards for their life-saving efforts September 11.

Lt. Gen. John A. Van Alstyne, who was at the Pentagon when terrorists crashed a plane into it, presented Eric M. Jones, 26, and Steve A. DeChiaro, 43, with a Medal of Valor each.

"It was the most horrible scene that I have seen in my 36 years of service," Gen. Van Alstyne said, praising the heroes as he pinned the medals on the left side of their chests, shook their hands and patted their shoulders.

The terrorist attack killed 189 persons, including the five terrorists, 59 passengers and 125 Pentagon personnel.

Watching yesterday were Mr. Jones' grandfather, Conway B. Jones, who uses a wheelchair and was a member of the historic all-black Tuskegee Airmen unit in World War II, and 5½-month-old Christian DeChiaro, born four months after his father's heroics.

Neither Mr. DeChiaro's wife, Libby, of Freehold, N.J., nor his mother, Theresa DeChiaro, 74, of Brooklyn, was surprised that he stayed and helped evacuate the Pentagon that day.

"He's always been a helpful boy. He's always been a prayerful boy," said his mother, who remembered her son as an altar boy at Our Lady of Guadeloupe Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"I think it's wonderful that our country acts to award them for acts over and beyond normal," said Mr. Jones' mother, Sheila Jones, of Oakland, Calif.

Mr. Jones is an only child. Other relatives attending were his father, Conway B. Jones Jr., an Air Force veteran who flew 80 missions over Vietnam.

Eric Jones, a graduate student in medicine at George Washington University, was driving to school and saw the plane crash into the Pentagon. He parked his car and ran to the site. A firefighter who had arrived seconds earlier had climbed a ladder, and his clothes were burning. Mr. Jones pulled him down and helped extinguish the flames.

Meanwhile, Mr. DeChiaro, who contracts his high-tech corporation to Defense Department projects, had just entered the Pentagon for a meeting.

"Rather than seeking safety for himself and under extremely hazardous conditions, he proceeded to the impact area and began carrying people to safety," Defense officials said of the shy Mr. DeChiaro.

"He began to drag people from that virtual hell," Gen. Van Alstyne said.

Mr. Jones and Mr. DeChiaro remained at the Pentagon for four days, helping save survivors, recovering bodies of those who didn't survive and aiding in clearing debris.

With the help of Marine Maj. Dan Pantaleo, Mr. Jones recovered a unsinged Marine flag from the fourth floor. As a symbol of defiance against terrorism, the flag was eventually placed on the space shuttle Endeavor and flown into space.

Mr. Jones was not finished. A volunteer firefighter and paramedic with the Prince George's County Fire Department, he went to New York and worked four more days in the debris left by terrorists crashing airliners into the twin World Trade towers.

"We're proud of what we did, but we worked with so many others who did exactly the same thing," Mr. Jones said yesterday.

"I love you all," Mr. DeChiaro said, choking back tears as he accepted his medal. "I just hope that we, as Americans, never forget that day."

Before presenting the medal to Mr. DeChiaro, Gen. Van Alstyne joked, "Steve, your wife, Libby, says the last time she saw you this nervous was when you were about to get married."

Then, Gen. Van Alstyne carried baby Christian to his father and posed for photographers.

Other relatives present included two daughters, Victoria, 15, and Stevie, 13; Mrs. DeChiaro's parents; two brothers; a sister; nine nephews and nieces.

"Eric, as you've shown here today, nothing makes you nervous," Gen. Van Alstyne said to Mr. Jones, who plans to go to medical school and specialize in emergency medicine and trauma surgery.

Mr. Jones' grandfather was wearing the signature red jacket of the Tuskegee Airmen, just like those worn by three other members. A fourth airman was wearing a tan summer suit with a large red Tuskegee badge.

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