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They Are Now Part of a Thousand Words

Mount Vernon Life

It was a day when four members of a residentially nestled fire station walked into the annals of photographic and national symbolic history that will probably become as famous as the Marines atop Mount Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima.

But for one in particular, it was also a day that brought a message that still resounds within his being. A message that comes all too often during any war. One for which there is never a true answer.

Capt. David G. Lange, Lt. James T. Morris, Haz Mat Technician Robert Clarke and Apparatus Technician Randy Schwartz, were among the 11 firefighters and three military personnel atop the Pentagon on Sept. 12, 2001. They unfurled the giant American flag symbolizing this nation's resilience and defiance against those who would destroy it. The photograph of that event is now world-famous.

"When we were asked to assist the military with the flag, I realized this was going to be a significant event. But none of us realized that photo would come to represent the events that had happened at the Pentagon. It makes us very proud that it has come to symbolize the dedication of firefighters nationwide," Lange said.

He and the others from Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department Station 11, Penn Daw, arrived at the Pentagon on Sept. 12, to relieve another crew that had been working for 24 straight hours. "When we got there, we went to the roof to prevent any additional flare-ups. Everything was still smoldering," he explained.

"Then the Army radioed up that they were sending up a crew with a flag they wanted hung over the side of the building. They sent three guys who could not have possibly handled that huge flag by themselves, so we did the anchoring," Lange said.

AS THE MULTI-STORY banner waved its challenge to the enemy next to the charred, gaping whole left by American Flight 77, there stood the firefighters from Penn Daw, Alexandria and West Centreville joined, by the three soldiers. For Lt. Jim Morris it was singularly poignant. His brother Seth lay somewhere beneath the rubble of the World Trade Center.

At 35, Seth A. Morris was a successful broker with Cantor Fitzgerald and working in their offices on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center's Tower 1. It was the first hit and the second to collapse. He left behind his wife, Lynne, and three children — two daughters and a son, ages 11, 8 and 5.

"They were all trapped in their office because of the fire below them. Many were talking on their cell phones to their families. I don't think they ever thought the building would collapse. They knew help was on the way," Morris explained.

"We got word on Palm Sunday that they had found him. We had a grave service on the Thursday before Easter," he said.

Married with three children, Morris is a native of Milford, Conn. He has been a firefighter and paramedic for 26 years. Eighteen of those have been with Fairfax County. Over that career path, as with any who choose that profession, there have been many critical moments.

But, Sept. 11, 2001, was his day off. "My wife, Elizabeth, and our three sons had gone to school. I was on the computer when my dad called and asked if I had the TV on. He told me to turn it on," Morris remembered. "When I did, I saw the first tower burning, and then the plane hit the second one."

AS A TRIBUTE to his brother, the residents in the New Jersey area where he lived have established a 5K race in his honor to raise funds for recreation and park facilities promoting youth sports. They have raised nearly $14,000 so far, according to Morris.

"He was very much into teaching kids about sports. He played ice hockey and was a real team player. He had more assists than goals for himself," Morris said.

Last Wednesday, as remembrances were held nationwide, the ceremony at the Penn Daw Station, 6624 Hulvey Terrace in the Beacon Hill area, had a very intimate atmosphere. There were not only firefighters but Fairfax County police, neighbors, and representatives of Metrocall. Headquartered to the rear of the Penn Daw station, Metrocall had lost an executive on Flight 77.

Steven D. Jacoby, a Mount Vernon District resident, had worked with the men and women of the Penn Daw Station as their Metrocall representative. Tim Dietz, director of corporate communications, and Ellen Crawford, vice president of marketing, where in the crowd to honor his memory.

"Everybody here knew him as Jake. He had a real attachment to this bunch," Dietz said.

For Jeff Donaldson, deputy chief of operations for the department, and his wife, Jennifer, Sept. 11, 2002, was a time to re-establish plans to celebrate their wedding anniversary, which were overshadowed by the events of one year ago. They had made all the arrangements for a trip to Bar Harbor, Maine, for their Sept. 12 anniversary, when Jeff, a member of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue Team, was called to the Pentagon.

"We were ready to go last year. Now we are going to start our trip right after this ceremony," Jennifer assured.

DURING THE CEREMONIES, 23-year veteran firefighter Lange, who lives in Annapolis with his wife, Seon, and their two sons, revealed one of the lighter moments of last Sept. 12. "We were about to lower the flag over the side, and people started yelling at us, no, no, you have it backwards," he told the crowd. "Everybody on the roof had a different opinion, so we turned it around and people down below began to clap and cheer."

On Sept. 10 of this year, that flag was presented to the Smithsonian Institution. It will occupy the space reserved for the original Star Spangled Banner while it is being restored, according to Lange. "I was honored to be part of the ceremony presenting the flag to the Smithsonian," he acknowledged.

Both Lange and Morris noted that their role in that moment of history of unfurling the flag was pure happenstance. "If the Army had decided to do it 10 minutes later, if would have been a different crew up on that roof," Morris explained. "Although there were 11 firefighters up there, you never see them all in one shot."

Reflecting on that afternoon and early evening after the flag was secured, Morris mused about the stark contrast between the smoldering chasm with its bright lights, working crews and noise, and the simultaneous sense of stillness in the opposite direction.

"The sun had set, and it was dark up on the roof that night. Looking out across the river to the city, you didn't have any sense of the noise and bright lights that were just behind you in that hole. When you had your back to it, it was all peaceful," he remembered. "I said to one of the other guys, I can't believe we are standing over all those dead people."

HE ALSO HAD trouble grasping the outpouring of support when they finally came off the roof. "These little old ladies from North Carolina pulled us over to their blue-and-white tent where they were cooking everything. I've never experienced food like that at any other disaster site," he said.

"Nothing was too much trouble for anyone. It was mind-boggling the resources that came in in such a short period of time," Morris marveled.

As the members of the Penn Daw station held a silent salute at three separate intervals, recognizing those who gave their lives on those three occasion that clear, bright, morning one year ago, Capt. David M. McKernan summed up the tribute by stating, "We're here to honor those who perished on 9/11 in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

"I would also like to thank the community that has rallied around us. It has made it a lot easier to come to work every day over this past year." As if to punctuate his words, four F16 jets came screaming over the station, closing their missing-man formation.

McKernan then presented a hand-drawn rendering of the unfurling of the flag to Lange. "This drawing was made to honor not just those of us who were on the roof. It is to honor all those who responded to the call that day and in the days that followed," Lange stated.

The framed rendering now hangs on the wall in the Penn Daw Station. "It belongs to everyone at this station," Lange emphasized.

It has taken its place among of all the other memories that were reignited at Station 11 on the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 — a date that is now a part of remembered history, as are the 11 firefighters and three soldiers captured by the camera for all time. It truly speaks a thousand words to all who will listen — friend or foe.