Victim Of Pentagon Terrorist Attack
Courtesy of the Washington Post:
It was the perfect summer night: cool and breezy. A perfect evening, James Gekas said, for neighbors to throw a special farewell dinner for a family that was leaving to live in Australia for two months.
Leslie A. Whittington and Charles S. Falkenberg, both 45, were due to leave with their two young daughters September 11 from Dulles International Airport for a flight to Los Angeles. The family had lived near Gekas on Tennyson Road in University Park for 12 years.
From Los Angeles the Falkenbergs would head to a dream working vacation in Australia, where Whittington, an economist and associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University, had secured a short appointment as a visiting fellow at Australian National University at Canberra.
The family was coming along to experience the "Land Down Under" in what they anticipated would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"It was their first trip to Australia," said Ruth Falkenberg, Charles' sister, in a telephone interview from Denver. "This was a wonderful opportunity that had presented itself and they were very excited about it."
The couple, who had been married since 1984, had moved out of their brick Colonial in University Park and had spent their last few days with daughters Zoe, 8, and Dana, 3, in a local hotel, awaiting the trip.
When they returned, Gekas said, they planned to move into a new house in Chevy Chase.
Whittington's mother, Ruth Koch, a retired teacher, said from her home in Athens, Georgia, that she last spoke to her daughter as the family waited to board American Airlines Flight 77 at Dulles.
"I just told them, 'Have a wonderful adventure,' " Koch remembered Monday. Neither Whittington nor Falkenberg called from their cell phones on the hijacked plane as it headed toward the Pentagon, as others did.
"They were such wonderful parents, I know they were just concerned about the girls," Koch said.
The family was mourned throughout the area this week, from University Park to Georgetown University, where a memorial service was held Monday.
At the Silver Spring YMCA, children who had taken swimming lessons with Zoe and Dana signed large condolence cards.
At Georgetown University, where Whittington was a well-liked instructor, a makeshift memorial of a candle and flowers was left on the floor by her office door. On a sidewalk outside, someone scribbled "Say a Prayer" in white chalk.
"The entire Georgetown community is in a state of shock," said Georgetown professor William T. Gormley Jr., associate dean of public policy.
"When you lose a colleague, especially a beloved colleague, it just magnifies the horror and sense of loss."
Whittington's former students were so touched and saddened that they spontaneously went to the campus the day after the crash of Flight 77, seeking to find each other, give solace and express their grief, Gormley said. Later that day, students and faculty attended a special Mass at Dahlgren Chapel on campus, followed by a grief session to give them a chance to express their emotions.
The loss has been magnified by the knowledge that loved ones lost the entire family, Gormley said.
Zoe and Dana sometimes accompanied their mother to work, curly-haired Dana smiling sweetly and Zoe often dressed in flamboyant costumes reminiscent of the Broadway stage, he recalled.
"They were very sweet kids and its inconceivable that we lost them along with their parents," Gormley said.
The children were especially excited about the Australia trip, Gekas said. "It was the idea of another city on the other side of the world, pretty much underneath the world, that was exciting," he said.
That excitement permeated the conversation at that last neighborhood dinner party, where the Falkenbergs and their neighbors sat around the table laughing and talking, sharing a meal of manicotti, salad and iced tea. They talked about exploring Sydney and encountering different kinds of wildlife like kangaroos, koala bears, scorpions and snakes.
Charles Falkenberg, a software engineer with ECOlogic Corp., had spent the past six years designing software for oceanographers, ecosystem and space scientists, according to his biography, posted on the Internet. He had previously worked with scientists researching the the long-term impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
In University Park and at University Park Elementary School, where Zoe was a student, the family will be missed -- funny Leslie, who could always make friends laugh, and kind-hearted Charlie, the nature nut who would organize the neighborhood for a weekend cleanup of the nearby creek.
The Gekas family inherited the Falkenberg's tabby cat, Stella, a temporary guest who became part of the Gekas family when she lost her own on Flight 77.
"Certain neighbors you just love and they were
them," Gekas said. "We were sad they were not going to be our neighbors
anymore but this is just unbelievable. I hope this is a nightmare that
will go away."
From a contemporary press report:
Unidentifiable remains of victims of the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, the military said Friday.
The September 12, 2002, ceremony will hold special significance for families of five people whose remains have never been identified, said Colonel Jody Draves, a spokeswoman for the Military District of Washington, which oversees the cemetery.
The service will include burial of the cremated ashes of all remains not linked to a particular victim, as well as some remains which were identified that family members asked to be included.
"The intent is not as a memorial service but as a group burial for victims not identified," Draves said.
The Pentagon attack killed 189 people: 125 in the Pentagon and 64 aboard American Airlines Flight 77. Remains of the five hijackers on the flight have been separated from those of the victims.
The five victims whose remains have not been identified include:
Retired Army Colonel Ronald Golinski, a civilian Pentagon worker
Navy ET1 Ronald Henanway
Rhonda Rasmussen, a civilian worker for the Army
James T. Lynch, a civilian worker for the Navy
Many relatives will also attend a group burial September 12, 2002, at Arlington National Cemetery honoring the 184 victims who were killed at the Pentagon or on the plane that was crashed into the building when five hijackers took control. Remains from many of the victims will be placed in a single casket and buried in a grave site marked with a headstone bearing all the victims' names.
The unique ceremony at Arlington will include
a funeral service at the Memorial Amphitheater near the Tomb of the Unknowns,
the first time the amphitheater will be used for such a service since an
unknown service member from the Vietnam War was buried there in 1984 during
an emotional Memorial Day ceremony with President Ronald Reagan. Those
remains were exhumed in 1998 for DNA tests, which showed that they were
of Air Force Captain Michael Blassie.