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Exhausted rescue teams relieved at Pentagon

Copyright © 2002 AP Online Print Story Email Story Save to your PDA with AvantGo

Special Report: America Under Attack

By DAVID PACE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (September 17, 2001 5:10 p.m. EDT) - Ian adorned his note with a heart and an American flag.

"Somewhere in America a little boy or girl is counting on you to rescue their parents, and I know you will," he wrote to Pentagon rescue workers.

The letter was among the hundreds that were sent by school children and now are filling boxes inside a support area in the Pentagon's south parking lot. That's where rescue workers escape the wreckage for some rest and food.

Recovery of the 188 victims of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon neared the halfway point Monday as officials began relieving exhausted search and rescue crews.

Teams from Fairfax County, Va., and Montgomery County, Md., first on the scene after the hijacked airliner crashed Sept. 11, were being replaced by a search and rescue unit from New Mexico.

"Certainly it takes a toll on the men and workers in there," said Tom Carr, leader of the Montgomery County task force. "We have to admit that."

But Carr described the rotation of search crews as standard practice for a prolonged effort like this. He said the reduction in the number of crews at the Pentagon of four to three indicates that work to stabilize the damaged building is nearly complete.

Recovery of the bodies is expected to take much longer. Pentagon officials said the remains of 88 victims had been removed by Sunday. Much of the recovery effort overnight was concentrated in the impact area where the roof of the Pentagon's outer ring collapsed.

"We've been finding bodies throughout the night," said Arlington County fire battalion chief Jim Bonzano. He estimated it will take another 10 days to two weeks to complete the recovery effort.

In the support area for Pentagon rescue workers, circus-sized tents offered fast food and counselors for the weary.

Damon Maclin, 36, of Memphis, Tenn., said he's looking forward to his team being relieved later this week so he can return home and see his 7-year-old twin daughters.

"They'll get a big hug and a kiss - a long one," he said.

Maclin was in a group of about a half-dozen Tennessee team members, their faces smudged with soot and dirt, sitting around a table eating lunch.

Asked if there were any special moments or images any of them would take back to Tennessee, Tony Redwine welled up with tears and said: "I don't want to talk about that."

Jerry Crawford, who heads the Tennessee search unit, said many of his crew members have asked to see clergy.

"They've had a major lifetime experience that none of them will ever get out of their minds," he said.

What workers were eager to discuss, however, was the camaraderie the search teams, both here and in New York, have developed over the years training and working together at disaster sites like this.

Kenny Jackson said he knew at least one of the firefighters who died in New York and is looking forward to going up there to help in the recovery effort.

"Not only to help them, but to be there with them," he said. "It's hard for us to even comprehend what they're going through up there."

Set up in a part of the support area closer to the crash site sits a memorial the Defense Department set up for family members of Pentagon workers killed in the attack. The memorial is a four-by-eight platform with a 3-foot-high board where family members have pinned photos of missing loved ones, notes, and personal items.

Army Col. Richard Breen said nearly 500 family members have visited the memorial in the last two nights.

"It's been hard, but they're grateful for the opportunity," he said.

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Copyright © 2001