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Occasion somber for families of 9/11 victims

Article - Monday, May 2, 2011

David Hill
The Washington Times 

Irene Golinski was not among the Americans who wildly celebrated Osama bin Laden’s death.

The 61-year-old widow of retired Army Col. Ronald Golinski — a civilian Pentagon employee killed Sept. 11, 2001, when al Qaeda hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon — said she felt “no emotions” upon learning Sunday night that U.S. troops had killed the attack’s mastermind.

“The people who it really didn’t affect might think it’s a cause for celebration, but it really doesn’t bring any closure,” said Mrs. Golinski of Columbia, Md.

While bin Laden’s death lifted countless spirits and touched off revelry in many parts of the nation, many family members of those he killed reacted in more somber, bittersweet tones.

“We know he’s dead, but it’s not going to end terrorism,” Mrs. Golinski said.

Nearly 3,000 people died in the four plane crashes — two into the World Trade Center in New York, one into the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and another downed in Shanksville, Pa.

The Pentagon attack killed 184 victims, including 125 on the ground, most of whom were D.C., Maryland and Virginia residents.

A family of four from University Park, a town of about 2,300 in Prince George’s County, died in the Pentagon attack.

Charles Falkenberg, wife Leslie Whittington and their daughters, Zoe, 8, and 3-year-old Dana perished on board the plane, scheduled to fly from Washington Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles.

Mrs. Whittington’s mother, Ruth Koch, said Monday she was comforted by news of bin Laden’s death, but that she and her family had largely moved on from the tragedy and were not especially concerned about retribution against the terrorist leader.

“It’s not really central to our lives. We’ve spent most of our lives getting over the loss of our family,” said Mrs. Koch, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Athens, Ga.

“But I think it helps,” she said.

Even family members who were deeply satisfied by bin Laden’s death — like Sylvia Hess, daughter of Pentagon victim and retired Army Master Sgt. Max J. Beilke — offered quiet, personal reactions.

“When I heard the news I said, ‘Dad, we got him,’ ” said Mrs. Hess of Laurel, Md. “Now I can breathe.”

Sgt. Beilke is listed officially as the last U.S. combat soldier to leave Saigon at the close of the Vietnam War. His departure March 29, 1973, on a C-130 U.S. transport plane was captured on live TV.

Mrs. Hess said the pain and the memories of her father, a Laurel, Md., resident, fade as the years pass, but a comment or just driving past a favorite family haunt can still spark a rush of emotions. Sgt. Beilke was 69.

“I’m still processing this, but I’m definitely elated,” Mrs. Hess said. “This is a long time coming. I’m glad they got him. He deserved a lot worse. There’s still a lot of anger there. I think we hide it.” Click here to read the full story.

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