Jimmie Ira Holley
Sergeant, United States Army
Jimmie Ira Holley
A Stepfather, and More
Daniel Jackson had been told not to open the casket. There might not be much inside, and it might be upsetting. The fire and destruction had been so consuming. But Jackson had loved his stepfather, Jimmie Ira Holley. Even if there wasn't much there, he needed to see him one last time.
For many victims at the Pentagon, there had been barely any remains to return from the big military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base. Burning aviation fuel and what was termed "blunt force" had reduced human forms to almost nothing. Officially, 70 percent of the victims died of blunt force injury; 25 percent of burns and smoke inhalation; and 5 percent from a combination of force, smoke and fire. The mortuary had triaged bodies when they were brought in from the Pentagon on big Chinook helicopters, as if from a battlefield in Vietnam. There were those that were "viewable," and those that were not. Most were not. The sorting and identification process had been detailed and technical. DNA was collected from toothbrushes and hairbrushes and compared with DNA from charred flesh and bone.
Some families waited months for remains to be identified and returned. Some got very little back. A few got nothing.
Jackson and his family had waited 10 agonizing weeks, but they finally had gotten something of Holley back in a metal military casket. The day before Holley's burial in Arlington National Cemetery in early November, Jackson went to Strickland Funeral Services in Temple Hills and asked that the casket be opened. "They told me I shouldn't, but I wanted to." He figured he could handle it. He was an anatomical technician for the Uniformed Services University, a military medical school in Bethesda. Besides, there were some mementos the family wanted to place with Jimmie before he was buried – a letter Jackson's sister and niece had written, and a family picture. "I didn't want anyone else to put those things in for him except me," he says.
Holley, of Lanham, who was 54 when he died, had come into Jackson's life more than a decade earlier, when he started dating Jackson's mother, Martha. Jackson's parents had been divorced for several years, and the family had become a tight threesome – Jackson, his mother and his sister, Kelly. Suddenly, there was this new man. Holley was an accountant at the Pentagon, and Jackson liked him right away. "I thought, 'He's okay with me because he makes [my mother] happy. He makes my sister happy, too.' Anyone who makes them happy is okay with me. He fit right in." Two years ago, Jimmie and Martha were married. After September 11, Jackson would get mad when people said that Jimmie was only his stepfather, that he was only his mother's husband, that Jackson ought to get over it.
Jimmie wasn't only anything. "He taught me more about being a man than anyone else," Jackson says. "He was a part of our family and then he was gone. You can't get over that."
Jackson went to the Strickland mortuary alone.
Inside the casket was the standard Army blanket in which the service has
wrapped its dead for generations. Holley was a veteran of the Army. On
the blanket was a set of his dog tags that had been made at the base
in Dover. Jackson pressed on the blanket. He could feel only a small lump,
made by the few bones that were all that was left of the man he called
his father. He rubbed the blanket gently, and started to cry.
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Burial Deadline Upsets Attack Victim's Family
Martha Jackson-Holley waited seven weeks to bury her husband.
Jimmie Ira Holley, an accountant for the Army, was missing after the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.
For weeks, Jackson-Holley waited for her husband's remains to be identified, as other families buried their loved ones from the Pentagon, often in proper military ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.
When Holley was finally identified October 18, 2001, by DNA tests on fragments of bone, his widow cried.
Then she started making arrangements. She wanted a heartfelt memorial service at Holley's church November 3, 2001, then burial atArlington, a fitting tribute to a former Army sergeant who had spent almost 30 years working for the government as a civilian.
Holding the ceremonies on a Saturday would allow his relatives and friends from as far away as Alabama to attend the services and then get back home in time for work Monday.
But there was more bad news to come. Military officials had suspended Saturday funerals at the end of October, and Jackson-Holley would not be allowed to hold the burial Nov. 3. Instead, the burial ceremony was held Monday, two days after the church service. Dozens of relatives and friends from out of town who had come in for the funeral service could not attend the burial.
As the attention of the country has turned away from the horrors of September 11 and toward the U.S. strikes in Afghanistan and the recent anthrax cases, some families of victims are still coping with the aftermath.
As of November 1, 2001, there were at least six Pentagon employees who had not been buried.
And as the numbers of Pentagon victims to be identified and buried has dwindled, so have programs established to assist families, such as the Family Assistance Center, which for four weeks acted as a sort of headquarters for families of Pentagon attack victims. The center, housed at a hotel in Crystal City, was disbanded after the October 11 memorial ceremony for Pentagon crash victims' families.
"It was like after the October 11 memorial service, a lot of people just put us out of their minds," Jackson-Holley said. "But that ceremony wasn't the end for us. They hadn't even identified Jimmie then. Things started for us on October 18, when I got that phone call."
"I am so hurt, so angry, I can't even express
how I feel," Jackson-Holley said in an interview before the funeral. "My
husband deserves to be buried at Arlington in the most respectful ceremony
we can give him, with his family and friends there. I can't
"Now, we're going to have to have the funeral service on Saturday then wait two days to bury him. I'm so upset about it."
Barbara Owens, a spokeswoman for Arlington
National Cemetery, said funerals are typically not performed on weekends
at the facility, where upward of 20 funerals are scheduled each day. But
services were scheduled on Saturdays in the wake of the
"To help alleviate the stress for the families, we decided to go to Saturday funerals," Owens said. "It was decided that October 27 would be the last Saturday funeral because of scheduling and demands on the soldiers."
Jackson-Holley and a military "casualty assistance officer" assigned to help her in the wake of the attack, tried without success to get cemetery officials to allow one last Saturday funeral. Owens said it was not permitted because the deadline had been set.
"It was not directed at the Holley family at all," she said. "It's unfortunate that that's when his remains were identified. That's the process we are taking. Looking ahead at the funerals that are already scheduled, there was more available time Monday through Friday."
Owens said she was unaware whether the Saturday funerals were also started as a courtesy to out-of-town families, as Pentagon victims' said they were told. Families said they were never told that there was a deadline for the Saturday funerals.
"If I had known that there was a deadline, I would have been urging them to return his body sooner so I could bury him on a Saturday for the family's sake," Jackson-Holley said. "Nobody told me anything until they told me they wouldn't bury him at Arlington on a Saturday."
Besides the disappointment over the burial, Jackson-Holley said she was also disappointed that authorities refused to reimburse the expenses of relatives who traveled by car to Holley's funeral.
Jackson-Holley said relatives were told that donated funds would reimburse them for bus, rail and air fares, but not for automobile travel expenses.
"A lot of his family members don't want to
fly right now and that should be understandable," Jackson-Holley
said. "Some of his family [were] not able to come because of this."
Martha Jackson-Holley did laundry yesterday to make sure her husband's clothes are clean when he comes home.
"I know how meticulous my baby is," she said. "I want everything to be right for him."
Jackson-Holley last spoke with her husband, Jimmie Ira Holley, 54, a Pentagon accountant, shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday, just before a passenger plane plowed into the World Trade Center and touched off a macabre series of events that would leave his family devastated.
"He caught the Metro to work, and I drive, so every morning he called me to make sure I got there safely," Jackson-Holley said. "The last thing we said was, 'I love you.' "
An hour after the call, Jackson-Holley was at work at the pharmacy at Fort Myer when a loud explosion shook the building. As she and her colleagues raced outside, she looked toward her husband's workplace and saw billowing clouds of black smoke.
"When I heard about the . . . World Trade Center, I prayed they wouldn't do anything to the Pentagon, but I knew it would be a target because it is the power center," she said.
As she waited with fellow employees locked down on Fort Myer, she called her husband's cell phone repeatedly but got no answer. She called her daughter, Kelly Jackson, and told her to "go home and wait for Jimmie's call."
But Jimmie hasn't called. He is listed as unaccounted for. His loved ones finally toured the wreckage that was his workplace Saturday. Yesterday, Jackson-Holley went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center -- Holley is retired from the Army -- to sign a release allowing his medical records to be shipped to Dover, Del., where forensics experts are going about the task of identifying remains found at the Pentagon.
Then the family returned to the Lanham home Holley purchased for his bride last year when they were married after courting for more than 10 years. They wait and pray and hope. Jackson-Holley said her husband has survived Vietnam, a kidney transplant and quadruple bypass surgery, so it is possible that he is still alive in the rubble.
But while the adults are hopeful that Holley may make his way back home, his youngest loved one seems to have accepted that he may not return.
"Pop-Pop is not coming back," said Holley's 4-year-old granddaughter, Kayla Walker. "His eyes are closed. The bad man got him."
-- Avis Thomas-Lester
JIMMIE I. HOLLEY (Age 54)
U.S. ARMY Staff Sergeant (Ret.)
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001 at the Pentagon due to a terrorist attack.
Jimmie was born in Alexandra City, Alabama, on August 1, 1947 to the late Leonard and Dezzie Holley. He leaves to mourn his death a devoted wife, Martha R. Jackson Holley; one son, Daniel K. Jackson; one daughter, Kelly O. Jackson; one grandaughter, Kayla L. Walker, and one god daughter. He is also survived by brothers, Bobby, Kennedy, Herbert, Otis, and Nathaniel Holley all of Alexandra City, Alabama and Jerry Holley of Atlanta, GA; sisters, Teresa and Jordean Holley of Alexandra City, Alabama and Dezzie of Pensacola, FL; three aunts, and host of nieces, nephews, relatives and friends.
Funeral service will be held at St. John Freewill
Baptist Church, 11425 Old Marlboro Pike, Upper Marlboro, MD 11 a.m. Saturday,
November 3, 2001. Rev. Kevin V. Gresham, Sr. will be officiating. Interment
on Monday, November 5, at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA with
full military honors. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be
made to the Jimmie I. Holley Memorial Fund at St. John Freewill Baptist
Relics From the Ruins
Army Unit Works to Return Belongings of Pentagon Victims
Sunday, July 28, 2002; Page C01
The singed piece of cloth brought back memories as soon as Martha Jackson-Holley saw it.
"I knew it was Jimmie's handkerchief," Jackson-Holley said, remembering her husband. "Jimmie always folded his handkerchiefs the same way. The edges were never even. He didn't like me to iron his handkerchiefs. He liked the softness from the dryer."
Sergeant Adalberto Colon also remembers the handkerchief.
He handled it when it came into the Joint Personal Effects Depot at Fort Myer, where Army Reservists are still working to match jewelry, clothing and other personal effects with victims of the Sept. 11 Pentagon attack.
"I remember that handkerchief," said Colon, a member of the Army's 311th Quartermaster Unit from Puerto Rico, a group ofReservists activated Sept. 15 to assist with remains and personal effects. "It was found in the pocket, and we had to take it out. It was burned a little on the edges, but it was still intact."
Ten months after five terrorists crashed an American Airlines jetliner into a wedge of the Pentagon, killing 125 workers there and 59 passengers and crew members, authorities continue to match personal effects with the families of those injured and killed in the attack.
The beige handkerchief belonging to Jimmie Ira Holley, 54, a budget analyst for the Army who died Sept. 11, is among thousands of items matched to victims by officials at the Joint Personal Effects Depot.
The depot, housed in former horse stables at the historic Army base in Arlington, was set up the day after the attack to receive, inventory, photograph, clean, store and distribute items from the Pentagon, the FBI warehouse and Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies were sent for identification.
The inventory provides a poignant glimpse inside the lives of people caught up in the Pentagon tragedy. There are aged photographs of women in bustles, pictures of groups of grinning soldiers, decorated frames with children on playgrounds. There are antique coins, military medals and plaques with scorched nameplates. There are baseball caps, dozens of sets of keys, clocks, CDs ranging from Smash Mouth to the Chicago Symphony, sweaters, several pairs of flat shoes and even an empty bottle of extra-dry Andre champagne. There are gold wedding bands, diamond watches, link bracelets -- many gnarled and blackened from the explosion.
"People keep everything in their desks, so there is some of everything in here," said Sgt. Elmer Feliciano, 32, a supervisor with the 311th. "Looking at the items sort of tells you what some of things were that were important to them."
The depot is off-limits to families of those who died, but everything there has been recorded in a photographic register shown to family members and Pentagon employees.
The "Unassociated Personal Effects Register," known to many as The Book, includes more than 300 pages of items that are stored in labeled brown boxes on gray shelves inside the depot awaiting release to survivors and families.
One woman who lost her husband in the attack said she could not bear to look at the register. "I had my son go through it. I waited in another room. It was just too painful," said Teresa Russell of Upper Marlboro. Her son did not recognize anything that belonged to Robert E. Russell, but a casualty assistance officer delivered some of his papers found in a fireproof file cabinet.
"I wish they hadn't returned the personal effects," she said. "It set me back. At first I was glad, but then I was upset and depressed all over again after I looked at it."
Other families, though, have scoured the book and repeatedly called asking if a piece of jewelry or cherished memento has turned up.
Each of the soldiers assigned to the depot has a special story about an item found. Colon remembered Holley's handkerchief because it arrived in a charred pants pocket. In most cases, personal effects are removed from clothing by the FBI before they reach the depot.
"I remember the handkerchief because I thought about it still being folded," he said. "But I remember most of what we've handled that came in here."
Like the toy car that was returned to one family and the hand-carved toy that was returned to another. And the desk nameplate that one husband was so desperate for. And the man's wedding band that one family wanted so a new groom could use it.
Maj. Andrew Williams, the depot's operations officer, remembered an insurance card that was returned to one family. "Even something that small -- a health care card -- it gave them closure," he said.
Jewelry is returned cleaned, polished and packed
in jewelry boxes provided by the post exchange store. Hard items are wrapped
in bubble wrap, then boxed. Any items that are not washable and may have
come in contact with biological hazards,
"Please be advised that contents may have been exposed to hazardous materials," a label attached to every package reads.
Some of those who survived the attack have ventured into the 800-square-foot warehouse to retrieve lost items -- sharing with depot workers their chilling stories of the Pentagon attack.
"When you are working with the personal effects, you tell yourself that they are only things, and that helps you deal with it," said Staff Sgt. Carmen Perez, 43, who has seen her two children only twice since she was called into service Sept. 15. "But when a person comes in and tells you what it was like and how hard it is for them, that's really the difficult part. You try not to cry in here. But sometimes at night. . . "
Feliciano said the hardest thing for him was looking at wallets. "You see their picture ID and you see what they look like, then you see the pictures of children, and then the list comes out and this man's name was on it. Then you think about the children's pictures and how much that family lost, and you've seen their faces."
Jackson-Holley wiped away tears as she ran her fingers over the plastic sealed bag that holds the folded handkerchief, left-back pants pocket and piece of brown lizard-skin belt returned to her. The package will top a family memorial she's setting up in her home, which includes Holley's medals and the flag she received the day he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
She was touched and amazed that Colon remembered her husband's handkerchief. "It must be awful for those poor people, but I am glad they are doing this for us," she said. "This handkerchief, this pocket and this belt are all I have left of my Jimmie.
"I can't touch them, but I can hold this package.
At first, I didn't want to have anything to do with it. Then, I thought,
these things were with him when he died."
NOTE: Sergeant Holley was laid to rest in Section 64 of Arlington National Cemetery, in the shadows of the Pentagon.
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 27 June 2003