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Five Years Later, Vienna Remembers

Local leaders, survivor recall 9-11 attacks.

Capt. Larry Everett was on duty at the Vienna Fire Station, watching the news coming in from New York City, when he heard a local report that airplanes were missing in the D.C. area. "It wasn't hard to figure out, so we started to get some of our stuff together," he said.

Soon after, an airliner slammed into the Pentagon, and Everett and his squad, consisting of three other firefighters and two medics, were sent into Arlington. When they arrived at the Pentagon, they were asked to account for the other Fairfax County teams on the scene, said Everett, who worked at the Vienna Fire Department for about two years and is now a battalion chief in the Fair Oaks area.

Already, the Arlington Fire Department "was doing a fantastic job of commanding the incident," he said.

Then, they were assigned to a task force of 75 firefighters and sent into the building.

Team members took turns fighting the fire, waiting in a backup position and "rehabilitating" — re-hydrating, having their blood pressure checked and eating cookies. They began their work in the outermost ring of the third floor, where the damage was the heaviest, and also spent some time on the first floor controlling small fires that were flaring back up.

As he entered the building, said Everett, he felt fear. "I prayed for two things," he said. One was that he would make good decisions for the men in his command. The other favor he asked: "Protect my eyes. I don't want to see anything I don't need to see." That prayer, he said, was answered by the water that had already accumulated on the first floor. He never saw a body that day. "You know they're there, but I couldn't see them."

THROUGHOUT THE DAY, he said, help came from fire departments all over Virginia, Maryland and D.C., as well as a specialty team from Tennessee, Pentagon employees and many bystanders whose help was well-intentioned but sometimes problematic. The Pentagon never stopped operating, as the country anticipated the possibility of further attacks.

It was not until 3 or 4 in the afternoon that rescue workers on the scene learned that the World Trade Center towers had collapsed, killing thousands of civilians and hundreds of firefighters, said Everett. "Then, we were thinking closer to thousands of firefighters," he said. "At that point, of course, everybody was in shock." The news cast a somber pall over the operations.

The most remarkable scene that day, said Everett, was the one that firefighters encountered on their way home. "Everybody stopped and applauded us as we drove by," he said. "It was incredible to see that. Not just for us, but to know people hadn't forgotten" the sacrifices made by rescuers.

The public's appreciation was abundant. Everett noted that letters came from classrooms all over the country. He later went to speak before an 11th-grade class in Brandon, Miss., whose letters, he said, "were very, very stirring."

On his days off work, Everett now travels and speaks before other classes, as well as corporations, youth groups and other organizations, about his experiences that day and in the aftermath of the attacks. He tells audiences that "there are great things that came out of 9-11," reminding them that the American people pulled together with a sense of cooperation and unity during the year after the attacks.

"But since then, that's all fallen away," he said. "We've lost that sense of being able to reach out of our own selfish position to help somebody else."

ALAN ROACH, a lieutenant at the station, went with two other station members to the Pentagon on the day after the attacks, in order to man an aid station for rescue workers.

Roach described a scene crowded with rescuers both hard at work and deep in contemplation. "It was quiet," he said. "Just generators going and people walking around."

"Everybody was just busy doing his job. There was just so much everybody had on their minds," he said, adding that he had still been in a state of disbelief himself. "I was just thinking about, 'What's happening in the world? What else is going to happen? What's happening now?'"

By the time he and his team had arrived, "the whole place was set up with tents," said Roach, noting that he had been surprised by the number of workers, generators, lights and dumpsters on the site. The Red Cross was on hand to serve meals, and military personnel were guarding the perimeter with machine guns. Roach said one young guard finally asked him if there had been any news since the day before. He had been standing at his post for some 30 hours.

Roach and his team were on the scene for six or eight hours, during which they primarily "waited around and drank coffee all night," he said. "We'd have been more than happy to have just stayed, but they kept rotating people through."

POLICE CHIEF ROBERT CARLISLE had just returned from a staff meeting at Town Hall when he learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The Vienna Police Station was prepared to send officers into Arlington, he said. However, having fewer officers to spare than most outfits, the station was not called upon.

Carlisle said there were three or four patrol officers on duty that day, as well as two traffic officers. Others called to ask if they were needed and were told to stay home for the time-being.

"The big concern for most of the rest of that day was that other planes may hit," he said. "Also, we didn't know if there were going to be accompanying attacks on a smaller scale."

He recalled that, as air traffic was grounded, reports continued throughout the day of various unidentified planes flying toward the D.C. area. "Those were some pretty tense moments," he said.

After hours of anticipation, Vienna officers ultimately found themselves with no emergencies to handle.

Carlisle noted that, throughout the day, officers and others tended to focus more on what they could do to help than on the implications of the day's events. "As you stepped away from it, toward afternoon, you started to realize that this was history."

VIENNA NATIVE Sean McGinly was in Los Angeles when airliners crashed into the World Trade Center, killing his younger brother, Mark. A screenwriter by trade, McGinly has since created a documentary film in which he interviewed about 30 other men who lost brothers that day. The film, "Brothers Lost," will debut on Cinemax at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 11.

Following the attacks, he picked up his youngest brother, who was attending flight school in Texas, and returned to Vienna to be with his family, said his father, Bill. "His mother suggested to him, because he was struggling with things, that he interview other brothers," said McGinly.

The result, he said, is "heartwrenching." "This isn't buildings crashing down. It's all about emotions and relationships." Many of the men interviewed describe similar reactions, said McGinly. At one point, they are asked if they believe in God. "You can see that they all question it," he said, noting that some say they believed until the attacks.

The film took about three months of filming and four months of editing, he said. "It was a nice tribute to his brother and something we never thought was going to go anywhere," said McGinly. He said the premier screening scheduled for this Thursday in New York is oversubscribed.

Mark McGinly's family has started a scholarship fund in his name, and it is funded in part by the annual Mark R. McGinly Scholarship Golf Classic, Dinner and Auchtion, which will be held this year on Sept. 18 at the Westwood Country Club.

McGinly said this may be the last year the event is held, as the fund is nearing the $500,000 mark. The tournament is now sold out, he said, but tickets are available for the dinner and auction.

Mark McGinly would have been 31 years old this year.

"OUR CHURCH STAFF, like everybody else in America, was stunned," said Pete James, pastor at Vienna Presbyterian Church, speaking of the morning of the attacks. "But our first instinct, in a crisis, is to bring it before God."

By that afternoon, he said, residents were calling the church to see if a service would be held in the evening. "We had no way to publicize it, other than word-of-mouth." Nonetheless, that day's impromptu service found the church's 850-seat sanctuary about two-thirds full.

"I went into the service not knowing quite what to say," said James. However, three key points came to him on the spot: "Life is fragile. Evil is real. And God is sure." The fact that "you never know when something like this is going to happen" demonstrated the fragility of life, he said, while the reality of evil was proven by the diabolical act of mass murder. "But I drew us back to our hope in God to redeem and to save."

Another service was held the next night to a full house, and the congregation continued to gather each night for the rest of the week.

The Vienna Presbyterian staff also met with leaders from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling. "We resolved to work harder on Christian-Muslim relationships," said James. "We acknowledged our connection, and we also reaffirmed our differences." Following the meeting, Vienna Presbyterian has offered classes on the relationship between Islam and Christianity, some of which featured speakers from ADAMS.

"All that fall we saw a spike in service attendance," said James. "People were looking for things of eternal value. They were more interested in seeking spiritual values for life instead of material ones." He said he thinks some of this effect has carried over through the last five years.