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Sept. 11: One year after

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Pentagon burn survivors face the future with hugs and smiles

By Lawrence L. Knutson, Associated Press

WASHINGTON Kevin Shaeffer remembers the moment on Sept. 11 when his head and face were on fire and 29 of his co-workers in the Pentagon's Navy Command Center were dead.

Juan Cruz-Santiago, a Pentagon accountant, was in his office on the first floor in the building's outer ring "right where the plane came through."

Luticia Hook was told on her hospital bed that the nose of the hijacked jet liner had stopped just 5 feet short of her desk. After months of therapy, she recovered her ability to walk and climb stairs and was so relieved she refused to stop walking for hours.

"I was afraid if I stopped I wouldn't be able to walk again," she said. The four others working in the Army information management office that day died.

Like all nine burn survivors who escaped the Pentagon, she expresses gratitude to the doctors and nurses of the Washington Hospital Center burn unit who saved her life and gave her hope.

These are men and women who worked behind fortress walls. When the walls broke and the fire rolled through the Pentagon their survival became part of the calculus of chance.

On Sept. 11, the hijacked airliner tore apart offices bright with flags and children's drawings. It killed 184 people, 125 in the Pentagon and 59 passengers and crew members aboard American Airlines Flight 77. About 63 people were wounded in the attack. The Pentagon's casualty list does not include the five dead terrorists aboard the aircraft.

Over the year that has passed the Pentagon has been repaired. The restoration extends even to the moldings around the windows looking out on the green lawn that a year ago was a rallying point for firefighters and rescue teams.

The giant building's fabric has been toughened with concrete and steel and its systems improved. If the Pentagon's corridors ever again become choked with smoke its floor-level escape markings will glow in the dark.

The human survivors have also gone through repair and rehabilitation. The evidence was visible in nonstop smiles and hugs as they reunited with their doctors and nurses Friday morning and picked up the friendships formed in months of convalescence.

"You're looking great," said one woman to another. "It's been a long haul," said another. Many wore tight, black, elastic body wrappings on their arms and hands and under their clothes to better control still-healing scar tissue.

Their doctors received more hugs than anyone.

Ten badly burned people were taken to the center on Sept. 11. Nine survived. The last to be released went home Dec. 18. All are still receiving medical care.

"If it weren't for the will to survive, to live, to recover, these people would not be in the shape they are in today," said Dr. James Jeng, the burn center's associate director.

Shaeffer, who was serving as a Navy lieutenant on Sept. 11, said he had burns over 42 percent of his body.

"I had ingested jet fuel," he said.

"For weeks at a time I had to survive without skin and I can't tell you how painful that was," he continued. "At the hospital they tell you to rate your pain on a scale of one to 10 and mine was off the charts. The worst day was on Oct. 4 when I had two cardiac arrests and had to be resuscitated from a flat-line condition each time."

He fought off infection and lung damage, but it could have been far worse.

"I was the only survivor in the Navy command center that morning," he said. "I knew I had to use all my will and strength to survive."

But there was more to it than that. He spoke of the sustaining love he received from his wife and family, his religious faith, the skill and determination of the burn center surgeons, and the angels.

Shaeffer asked the audience's indulgence, bent over and switched on a recording of the pop song, "Angels Among Us," by Alabama. He let its lyrics about vanquished fear and answered prayers float over the room. He said it had become his personal anthem when it was played in his room after days in which the only way he could deal with pain was to scream.

"There is a lot of love in this room today," he said. Then he adds:

"I'm a survivor. We are all survivors, not victims and not heroes. The heroes are the doctors and nurses here at the burn center."

Today's news:
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Mass. remembers victims
Silence, tears mark day at Logan
Under alert, Mass. carries on
Bush faces day with resolve
World remembers attacks in US
Memorial in Shanksville, Pa.
Updated wire coverage

Photo galleries:
Families mourn, remember
Ceremony at Ground Zero
Ceremony at the Pentagon
Ceremony at Pa. crash scene
Remembrances worldwide
Remembrances in Boston

NECN RealVideo:
Moment of silence observed
Ceremony at State House
Gettysburg Address read
Procession at Ground Zero
A somber travel day at Logan
Images of Sept. 11, 2001



Preparing for the worst
Security has become the new norm in Greater Boston.


Fear and children
Children's responses may shed light on human anxiety, resiliency.


Muslim minds
The US effort to win over Muslim hearts and minds is failing.


Science vs. terrorism
New chemical, biological threats spur nation's top minds.


For those deported after Sept. 11, the losses are wrenching.


A special Magazine issue
A Sept. 11 narrative by former Massport chief Virginia Buckingham, plus an essay by Christopher Hitchens.

A special Arts section
How culture has changed since Sept. 11, including a gallery of art inspired by the attacks.

A special Focus section
A look at how the lives of six Americans were altered.

Everywhere USA
Terrorism comes to God's country.


Where is Al Qaeda?
How have bin Laden and his terrorist group eluded US forces?


Two cities
New York and DC one year later.


America remembers
The US looks back at the terrorist attacks.

Victims and survivors
A year later, still hurting.

A time for bells and remembrance
A clash of views on terror
Limited damage to the economy
Families build support system
NYC's healing process
Finding comfort in the kitchen
Bailey: A day of atonement

From the Associated Press:
Tribute paid with tattoos
Charities changed by 9/11
White House calls home
9/11 stole innocence, love
Man escaped earthquake, 9/11
Update on 9/11's famous faces
Firemen still burying dead
A mother's note to a lost son
9/11 created heroes in death
Voice mails bring comfort
Little things hold memories
87th floor survivor copes
Sampling of 9/11 memorials
Pentagon survivors move on
Moments of silence on Sept. 11
Survivors try to move forward
Families cling to chances
Sept. 11 widow trying to forgive
Widow becomes an advocate
Workplace response varies
Graphic: Funds offer relief

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