- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2004

September 11 survivor and retired Lt. Col. Brian Birdwell and his wife, Mel, hope to help the lives of burn victims and injured military personnel by writing the story of their own trials and triumphs following the Pentagon attack that nearly claimed Col. Birdwell’s life.

In “Refined by Fire,” released today, the couple shares their experiences after Col. Birdwell sustained burns to 60 percent of his body when Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. He was standing only 20 yards away in his office on the second floor.

“Mel and I wrote the book just to share the story,” he said. “It’s our goal to share a godly message of Christ’s sovereignty in our lives.”

The Birdwells will donate the proceeds from the book sales to Face the Fire, an organization the couple founded in January 2003 to provide spiritual and financial support to burn victims and their families. It also reaches out to soldiers who have been injured in Iraq and who Col. Birdwell said “have paid the ultimate price for their nation.”

The book’s July 4 release isn’t a coincidence. The retired colonel said his sense of patriotism has only intensified since September 11.

“Once you’ve paid in blood, it becomes a little more personal to you,” he said.

Col. Birdwell’s initial fight to survive was only the beginning of the trials he would face on the road to recovery. In the months following the attack, he endured more than 30 operations, numerous skin grafts and physical therapy.

“Now that you realize you are alive, you realize how long the path to recovery will be,” he said.

“Relying on God is how we got through it,” Mrs. Birdwell said. “It doesn’t mean we weren’t scared out of our minds.”

In the book she thanks numerous people around the country for their support during her family’s difficult times, but she was especially appreciative of the Red Cross. The organization paid her $8,000 hotel bill during the three months she stayed with her husband at the Washington Hospital Center Burn Unit. She hopes Face the Fire can provide similar services for the families of other burn victims.

Days after the attack, President Bush and the first lady visited the couple in the hospital. Mrs. Birdwell recalled how Mr. Bush saluted the colonel and asked if he could pray for his family.

“The leader of the free world had made time in his busy schedule to comfort us,” she wrote in the book. “He and the first lady were so real, their compassion so genuine, and he was a man of God.”

In May, the Birdwells, including their 14-year-old son, Matt, were invited to meet with the first couple again in the White House.

Describing it as another form of physical therapy, Col. Birdwell returned to limited duty at the Pentagon in March 2002. He retired from the Army on Thursday and plans to devote more of his time to Face the Fire.

Col. Birdwell said he fully agrees with Mr. Bush’s actions following the terrorist attacks that nearly took his life. He believes the country must go on the offensive to prevent the loss of American lives.

“This isn’t about American soil,” he added. “It’s about American blood.”

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