Robert E. Russell, 52, met his wife at her 16th birthday party. When he proposed to her four years later, he promised to buy her a large house with a white picket fence, take her to Paris and, in their eighties, sit together on their porch with their great-grandchildren.
“Every dream's come true, but not that last one,” said Teresa Russell, 50, a human resources specialist at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Her husband, a civilian budgetary supervisor for the Army, worked at the Pentagon and hasn't been seen since the attack. He was born in Columbia, South Carolina, and raised in Capitol Heights and had received degrees from the University of Maryland and Boston University. He and his wife had three children: Cydne, 30, Robert, 28, and Valerie, 14.
On Friday evening, Teresa Russell sat in her multilevel home on Lindsay Road in Oxon Hill holding two of her six young grandchildren, and she thought of the days ahead. “How can I go back to work and concentrate when there's no closure?” she asked. “My husband's not even buried — if he is, in fact,
Russell got up from her living room sofa, looked at one of the dozens of pictures of her husband on the walls and smiled. His face, it seemed, brought her some peace.
— Steven Gray
RUSSELL, ROBERT ERROL, SR. ”BOBBY”
Sergeant Major, US Army (Ret.)
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Beloved husband of Teresa Russell; father of one son, Robert Russell, Jr.; two daughters, Cydne (Russell) Williams and Valerie Russell. Also survived by mother, Mildred (Russell) Fletcher; six grandchildren, two brothers, two sisters, a host of other relatives and friends. Friends are invited to attend funeral services on Friday, October 12. Please assemble at 2 p.m. to board buses at Arlington National Cemetery. Interment with Full Military Honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
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,
such as Holley's singed handkerchief, are sealed in plastic shrink-wrap, which families are urged not to open.
“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.”
Dear Lt. Reese,I know you may not know me, but we have passed in the hallways on several occasions. My name is Robert Russell Jr. and I am the nighttime cleaning supervisor for this facility. (The Training Center)
On September 11, 2001, my father Robert Russell Sr. was tragically killed in the attack on the Pentagon along with his entire office of co-workers and friends. On that day thousands of men and women risked their lives with heroic efforts of rescue and recovery, including the brave men and women of the Prince William County Fire & Rescue Departments.
The reason I am writing you this letter is to thank you and all of the Prince William County Fire Fighters and rescue workers for their valiant efforts on 9-11-01. In my eyes your department is the epitome of the word “heroes”. It was because of people like you and your department that my father's remains were recovered and my family was able to give him a decent burial at Arlington National Cemetery. As I looked at the memorial that is displayed in the rear hallway of this facility I was moved to tears. These heavy emotions were immediately followed by a strong conviction for not thanking your department sooner. As our nation observes the one-year anniversary of this tragic event I pray that God will bless this department and that he will keep you in his favor forever.
On behalf of my father and my entire family, our deepest and sincerest thanks are extended to you and your department for all that you do on a daily basis. Please share this letter with your staff and remind them that the work they did on 9-11-01 was not in vain, nor will it ever be forgotten.
Robert E. Russell Jr
NOTE: Sergeant Major Russell was laid to rest in Section 64 of Arlington National Cemetery, in the shadows of the Pentagon.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard