Thursday, September 17, 2009

Locals thank Germans for giving

by Dennis Ryan Pentagram staff writer December 6, 2002

Photo Dennis Ryan Spc. Michael Petrovich diagrams how he was trapped and escaped from the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Teresa Russell lost her husband, retired Sgt. Maj. Robert E. Russell, in the Pentagon attack and didn't start to recover until she went on an all-expenses-paid trip to Germany with relatives and victims of the terror attacks.

The Kommerz Bank of Germany picked up the tab for 300 folks for two weeks. Russell and about 80 other family members and victims gathered at the Fort McNair Officers' Club Nov. 27 to thank a small contingent of German visitors with a Thanksgiving meal.

"It was so wonderful," Russell said. "My mind was totally devastated. It wasn't until I went on the trip that I started to recover."

Larry Shaw, Chief Operating Officer of Northern Virginia Family Service, spoke about how the Germans have helped in the recovery process.

"Our role is to put in place 16 case managers and 10 support staff," Shaw said. "We're working with more than 400 families. That translates to more than 1,200 people in 30 states and three countries. The German people through the German Embassy gave more than $600,000 to Northern Virginia Family Services. The Kommerz Bank wanted to help these families in recovery. They were randomly selected."

There were four separate trips involving 75 to 80 people each starting in May of this year and ending in October.

Christoph Schwarzer is businessman and volunteer firefighter in Bad Homborg, Germany, started to collect donations in his town when he saw the devastation wrought by the Sept. 11 attacks on TV. He raised $53,000 and donated the check to the children of New York Firefighters who lost their parent.

John Yates, a civilian employee at the Pentagon, spent two months in the hospital recovering from burns.

"The trip was wonderful," Yates said. "We had been through the one year anniversary. Everyday that goes by helps you to heal. It was good to get away from it all after the anniversary. I went home the Friday before Thanksgiving [last year]. We're totally enjoying these holidays. My physical recovery is progressing. Emotional, it's going to take longer."

Yates' wife Ellen talked about the trip.

"It was very helpful being with all the other people," she said. "Meeting young Navy wives who lost their husbands made me realize how lucky I was to still have my husband."

Betty "Doc" Maxfield, an Army demographer and her husband Kent are still dealing with the repercussions from that day.

"She was 15-20 feet from where the plane hit," Kent Maxfield said. "We drove by the Pentagon last October, going to a Redskins game," Maxfield said. "Betty started sobbing, 'why me, why me?'"

Betty Maxfield and several others are around largely due to the heroism of Spc. Michael Petrovich and a few other brave souls.

Petrovich had arrived at his desk in the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel office a little late that morning, when he overheard a radio report of the World Trade Center disaster.

He called a fellow soldier at NSA to tell him and then hung up the phone.

"The roof shook, the floor shook, the air rippled and I looked up and this orange flash shot up across my face and then went back the way it came," Petrovich said. "It was like this wave. Time kind of suspended itself. I got up and looked and saw my supervisor taking off. The power went out, smoke was coming in."

The husky Petrovich remembers thinking he wouldn't have to take his PT tests or pay any more bills before taking off his tie and acting.

"I told everyone to get down under the smoke and to follow me," he said. "We're crawling in circles. I'm getting panicky. I felt a door with the back of my hand. It blistered. I knew where I was then. We had to cross 300 feet of room. It was a maze of rubble. Stuff was dripping from the ceiling. Sprinklers were working in the middle of the room."

Petrovich was running out of breath by the time he crossed the room only to find a warped blast proof window.

"I took a laser printer and started beating on the window," Petrovich said. "Col. [Phillip] McNair's group came up and he started kicking the window. We got it open a foot or two. I dropped the printer on the first floor, they heard the printer crash. They yelled up to us. I started dropping people."

The specialist and the colonel continued rescuing people until Petrovich dropped himself down, while the colonel went to look for more people.

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