Former Wasilla High, UAF man among the missing at Pentagon

Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Navy officer who grew up in Alaska and chose to work in the Pentagon to be closer to his family is among those missing after a commercial jet hijacked by terrorists struck the building Tuesday.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ronald Hemenway, 37, hasn't been heard from since the fiery crash, said his parents, Bob and Shirley Hemenway of Shawnee, Kan.

Hemenway's name is on the list released by the Defense Department of the 188 people who remain unaccounted for in the Pentagon attack.

Hemenway, who attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has a wife, Marinella; and two children, Stefan, 3, and Desiree, 1. They live at Bolling Air Force Base near Washington.

Shirley Hemenway told the Washington bureau of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that her son was successful enough to pick his posts and ended up at the Pentagon after a tour on the USS LaSalle.

''We said 'Hey, you'll be closer to us, you'll be safe and you'll be home for your family every night,''' she said. ''Obviously we were wrong on some of our observations.''

Hemenway lived in Fairbanks with his family from 1967 to 1974 and returned, after graduating from Wasilla High School in 1982, to attend UAF.

His father, Bob, worked across the state for Alascom and its predecessors, dating back to the days when Alaska's long-distance phone systems were run under contract to the U.S. Army. He and Shirley came to Alaska in 1961.

Their first assignment was Cape Yakataga, on the Gulf of Alaska coast. They had no electricity or running water, Shirley recalled, and she flew 120 miles west to Cordova for Ronald's birth.

After Yakataga, they moved to Tok and then to Fairbanks in April 1967, just a few months before the Chena River flooded the town.

In Fairbanks, Bob worked at the military's White Alice communication stations on Murphy and Pedro domes while cultivating an interest in politics. He became the Republican Party chairman for the Fairbanks area in 1968 and served through 1972. That's when he met the soon-to-be U.S. Rep. Don Young and his wife, Lu. The couples remain friends.

The Hemenways moved south to Wasilla, where the family eventually grew to six children. Seeking warmer weather, the family uprooted again and headed for Atlanta. There, Bob signed on with Sprint and helped develop the early backbone of the Internet.

Ronald left UAF and followed his family shortly afterward, deciding to pursue a career in horse breeding. He worked at a chemistry firm and an equestrian school but followed his parents once again when Sprint reassigned Bob to a post in Kansas.

There, Shirley remembers finding a note from her son one morning. It said: ''I won't be home until I've found a job.''

''He came back around supper time and said he had a job. He was going to join the Navy,'' Shirley said. ''We thought it was a joke.''

Ronald wasn't joking. He had tried to join the Air Force, but at age 30 was over that service's age limit. The Navy recruiter was in the same building, though, so Ronald signed up with that branch, his mother said.

From there, she said, her son had one success after another. He aced his vocational aptitude tests, entered Navy training in electronics and graduated at the top of his class.

''So he had his pick of what to do,'' she said.

He picked a ship sailing for Italy -- the USS LaSalle.

''We teased him and said now you're going to find an Italian girl and marry her,'' she said. ''And he did.''

Ronald and Marinella were married in Italy, then renewed their vows in America at a joint ceremony with his sister Kathleen. He also has two brothers and two other sisters.

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