Former Alaska family mourns loss in Pentagon attack

Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The last time Bob Hemenway saw his son Ron alive, they stood over the grave of another son, a boy who died decades ago as an infant.

In some hopeful way, Bob thought that grave in Massachusetts might mark the end of young, untimely deaths for his family. Each of Bob's siblings also had lost a son -- a drowning, a car accident, a murder.

''We'd lost a son, we didn't think we'd lose another one,'' Bob said.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, it happened again.

On that day, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald John Hemenway, 37, husband and father of two young children, was working on the first floor on the west side of the Pentagon. The hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 skipped over the parking lot and drove into the building one story above him.

The aircraft, filled with fuel for a cross-country flight, sank into the lower floor and exploded into flame. Ron's body was never recovered.

''My son's everywhere and nowhere,'' Bob said.

Bob Hemenway and his wife Shirley visited Washington, D.C., this week for a memorial service at the Pentagon and a ceremonial burial of unidentified remains at Arlington National Cemetery.

''That's the closest to a funeral we'll ever see,'' Bob said.

The couple, who lived in Fairbanks, Wasilla and other Alaska communities from 1961 to 1984, are grateful for all the assistance and support they've received. They now live in Kansas, along with four of their children. A fifth child lives in New York.

Ron's wife Marinella, who he married in Italy while on a tour, plans to stay in the United States with their children, 3-year-old Stefan and 1-year-old Desiree. Marinella is on track to get her citizenship within a few months.

''We love to talk to each other,'' said Shirley. ''She calls me all the time.''

Marinella's mother has joined her here from Italy and will seek citizenship as well, Shirley said.

The bereaved young family is doing fine financially, Shirley said. The military provides Ron's full retirement to Marinella and a couple from Illinois gave her $50,000, she said. In addition, the Red Cross moved her from Bolling Air Force Base to a renovated townhouse in Virginia.

Bob and Shirley Hemenway expressed one simple desire for the nation after their year of grief: Don't let the terrorists win.

As a young child, Bob said, he visited war-torn Britain. ''I remember things no little kid should see,'' he said. To minimize such trouble, he said, world leaders should remember the example set by Winston Churchill in standing up to Adolph Hitler in World War II.

''You can't appease people,'' he said.

He said he is confident in President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and supports their desire to extend the war on terror to a war on Iraq. ''If we've got a problem with Iraq, we've got to deal with that,'' he said. ''To be honest with you, and this is my own personal opinion, I think those Arabs would fold if we went over there.''

Shirley also sees the Sept. 11 attacks as a failure to respond to earlier aggression.

''This wasn't the first time and we really did nothing,'' she said, ''and if we continue to do nothing it's going to get worse.''

She said beating the terrorists requires not just a military victory but also a commitment to moving on and enjoying life. That's hard for people such as them, who have lost family and friends, she said, but ''life should get on.''

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