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Families Remember Loved Ones Lost at Pentagon

It seemed that every 10 minutes a plane taking off from Reagan National Airport roared nearby. The sound was chilling as family and friends gathered to remember loved ones who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Although five years have passed, "We all remember where we were that day and what we were doing," said Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who hosted the memorial service for family and friends.
"Five years ago, Sept. 11 forever ceased to be an ordinary date on the calendar," said Vice President Dick Cheney. "We remember all that we saw and felt on that Tuesday morning. Our nation will forever look with reverence upon this place where their lives ended. "
Lisa Dolan and her son Beau, parishioners at St. Mary Parish in Alexandria, will never forget the events of that day.
At 8:55 a.m. she spoke to her husband, Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan Jr. Capt. Dolan worked in the Navy Command Center as head of the Strategy and Concepts Branch for the Chief of Naval Operations. He called Lisa to tell her that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.
When she heard of the second tower being hit with another plane, Lisa tried to contact her husband again.
"I knew this wasn't an accident, and it could only be a purposeful act," she said. "I tried time and again to connect with Bob. I never was able to reach him."
Months later she would learn that her husband was busy working on the crisis in New York when Flight 77 struck the Pentagon.
When she learned of the third crash, Lisa's thoughts turned to her children, Rebecca, then a sophomore at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, and Beau, a fourth-grader at St. Mary School. By the time she picked them up at school they were both aware of the attacks.
"We waited home together praying and waiting for news," Lisa said. "They knew their father was missing. When no word came, we all knew he was gone."
Several priests from Bishop Ireton stayed with the family that afternoon.
"They sat with us, and prayed with us, and continued to support us in the months following our ordeal," Lisa said. "Even now, five years later, they continue to be a source of strength to my family."
The St. Mary's community banded together and provided food for the family for months. Lisa said students at both schools were "incredible.
"They rallied around Rebecca and Beau making sure they were safe," she said.
Now, five years later, the Dolan family is moving ahead.
Beau has begun high school at Bishop Ireton. Rebecca is in her third year of college.
Lisa said one of the most difficult challenges in her new life as a single mother is watching her children grow without their father.
"My husband and I thought we'd be making this journey together," she said. But her children are still her priority.
Lisa has been very active in 9/11 volunteer projects to continue her husband's legacy.
"He has left it to us to follow his magnificent lifelong example of sacrifice and commitment to freedom, family and service," she said. "Like Bob, my family has taken up the motto, 'First for Freedom.'"
Lisa helped found the Pentagon Memorial Fund after working on the Family Steering Committee and continues to serve on the board for the memorial fund. She has also worked on committees to assist 9/11 victims and survivors and committees that assess the response to 9/11 and how to respond to future tragedies.
Earlier this year, Lisa attended the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in Alexandria. She said not only was this part of the grieving process for her, but it was a way to support the Department of Justice and the FBI.
In her husband's memory and in tribute to those who died on 9/11, the Dolan family is raising a golden retriever registered as Honor's First for Freedom. She is being trained to be a therapy dog and will provide comfort and companionship and "give something medical science cannot provide," Lisa said.
Through Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Lisa and her golden retriever are working with children affected by the death of a loved one in the Armed Forces. In the future, she hopes to visit injured soldiers at local military hospitals as well.
Another way the family has honored Capt. Dolan is by establishing the Captain Robert E. Dolan Citizenship Award at St. Mary School. The award was established to recognize a graduating student whose actions and community involvement "best demonstrate the exercise of freedom to help others by working for the betterment of their community in a way that exemplifies the true spirit of freedom, citizenship and service."
Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan, Jr. was one of 184 men and women remembered in the misty Monday morning at the Pentagon.
"They were unsuspecting of danger and undeserving of their fate," Cheney said.
Lisa and Beau were among those Rumsfeld spoke to when he told the audience gathered at the ceremony, "Know that you are always in our thoughts and prayers." Mary Frances McCarthy can be reached at mmccarthy@catholicherald.com.

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2006