Stafford Lang can still remember how the thick smoke billowed through the halls outside his fifth-floor Pentagon office in the moments after the plane crashed one floor below.
The 56-year-old Fairfax Station resident was working for the Department of the Navy as a civilian on Sept. 11, 2001, when his world exploded.
"The whole hallway was engulfed. … We didn't know what we were walking into," said Lang. Three years later, Lang and many others are learning how to deal with his memories of 9/11. Thanks to a camp designed for survivors of the Pentagon tragedy, he's finding that he doesn't have to try to move on.
"It's not just something where you can just go on with life," said Lang, who sustained neck and back injuries in the incident and aggravated a sinus condition that still plagues him to this day.
"That doesn't work for me, and it doesn't work for a lot of us."
Lang will travel this weekend to Berkeley Springs, W.Va., for the 9/11 Pentagon Family Survivors Retreat. The camp is sponsored by the Lions of Northern Virginia, which is a division of Lions Club International and includes 11 counties in Northern Virginia.
Since the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Lang had been trying to form support groups for those victims and survivors. He found the camp to be just the remedy he was looking for.
"It made me feel like I wasn't all by myself, with my own problems. We could actually talk about the things that happened to us," he said.
THE CAMP, which takes place at the Coolfont Resort and Spa, came as a result of the Lions Club’s receiving $3.5 million in donations following the 9/11 tragedy.
"As time went on, it appeared that the best thing we could do was to provide a source of getting the families together, to have an outlet for them that nobody else was doing," said Glenn Rybern of Mason Neck, the district governor for Lions of Northern Virginia
Through a partnership with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, an organization that runs grief-counseling camps across the world, the Lions of Northern Virginia provided its 70 guests a weekend of informal healing through a summer-camp environment.
"It's a chance for them to relax and have an enjoyable weekend," said Jay Copp, communications chairman for the Lions Club. Copp attended last year's retreat in West Virginia. "They feel like kings and queens," he said.
Through activities like face painting, puppets, juggling, crafts and stilt-making, Lang said he could feel his load lightened.
"I know this sounds funny, but it was very good therapy. We were acting like children, and it was a good way to release the stress of everything," he said.
Rybern said he is expecting close to 100 attendees this weekend, which may be the last of its kind in Northern Virginia, however. Most of the money the Lions received in donations has been used up, Rybern said.
"My guess is that the further we get from Sept. 11, the fewer contributions we'll get," said Rybern. "I'm not sure we'll ever do another one of these down here."
Through the course of the retreat, the parents also have a chance to undergo spa and massage treatments, and therapy is also available.
When they left, said Lang, they had grown closer together.
"We were all comrades," said Lang. "It's hard to relate unless you were actually there."