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Memory of 5 Pentagon victims is ‘sacred trust,’ Spivey says

WASHINGTON (BP)–The remains of five victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon could not be identified, but the identity of the victims is secure in heaven, Brig. Gen. James Spivey said during a funeral service for the victims at Arlington National Cemetery Sept. 12.

Ronald F. Golinski, 60, Ronald Hemenway, 37, Rhonda Rasmussen, 44, James T. Lynch, 55, and Dana Faulkenberg, 3, were not identified positively following the attack last year, and the families of the victims received no remains for burial. Faulkenberg was aboard American Airlines Flight 77.

Spivey, formerly U.S. Army assistant chief of chaplains, delivered the eulogy for the five unidentified victims. He administered the Pentagon’s family assistance program in the wake of the attack on the facility last year. He also is associate professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Spivey said those present in the memorial amphitheater had gathered at a “most sacred site” which was intended to be a place of reverence and peace at the heart of the nation. Today, he said, the amphitheater “echoes the collective mourning of a nation.”

The memorial amphitheater, Spivey said, was a reminder that “tyranny still lurks in the hearts of evil men” and that “misguided causes still dare to assail our cherished values of life and liberty.”

Spivey described those who lost their lives on Sept. 11 as “good,” “brave” and as “patriots.” All of the victims had given their lives in the pursuit of liberty, he said, in the face of evil that “conspired to rob us of life.”

The group burial of the five victims of the attack also was the consecration of the new five-sided monument for 184 victims of the attack, said Spivey, noting that the nation was indebted to those who had perished.

“Today on this hollowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery, we as your family, this band of brothers and sisters, make this promise to you. We will never forget. We will steadfastly hold the memory of your loved ones as a sacred trust, and we will forever cherish their sacrifices made on our behalf. The monument we dedicate today stands guardian to that pledge,” he said.

“Stone memorials erode and inscriptions fade away … but pledges of the heart abide forever. Our promise is from the heart.”

Spivey’s eulogy was replete with scriptural references and was intended for the Christian families of the victims, he said. But the words of comfort and hope also were intended for the remainder of the nation. While he admitted that Sept. 11 was “at the top of the list of things we don’t understand” and on that day “the darkness of night descended upon us like a blanket of evil,” God could still be found. “God is nigh, God is sufficient, but we are not,” he said. He encouraged those present to rely upon God.

The unique Christian belief in the resurrection from the dead serves as a reminder for Christians that the sting of death has been removed by the atoning work of Christ, he said. He also said that the condition of the bodies after the attacks was of little consequence.

“Oh, how we prayed with you that they would be identified. Today, we grieve with you even more because this never happened. … Despite the sinful acts of evil men on Sept. 11, death did not have the victory. Just as your loved ones had an identity on this earth, they have a perfect and recognizable identity in heaven. Furthermore, you will meet them again someday,” Spivey said to the families, with whom he had had frequent contact in the preceding months.

Spivey concluded his remarks by quoting the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and encouraged the families not to grieve “like the rest of men who have no hope.” The victims’ hope, he said, was in Christ.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also addressed the families of the five victims. “Those who died, died here at home, not on a far away battlefield. … [B]ut they died because they were part of a nation that believes in liberty,” Rumsfeld said.

The victims of the Sept. 11 attack join the more than 275,000 soldiers and civilians interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

Following the funeral ceremony, a horse-drawn caisson carrying a single flag-draped coffin containing unidentified remains from the Pentagon attack made its way from the crowded amphitheater to the five-sided monument and gravesite for a group burial.

The monument and gravesite, from which the Pentagon is visible, lie next to the site where the remains of 64 victims of the attack were interred last year.

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  • Gregory Tomlin