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Remembering Victims of September 11

Aired January 1, 2002 - 20:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: He dedicated his life to serving his country. Now, this military man is fighting for his health. After the attack on the Pentagon.

Carrying the torch, widowed on September 11, you'll meet a woman who vows to keep her husband's memory burning bright.

Life goes on. Another September widow expecting a child, embraces the joy of new life as a living legacy to her lost husband.

And this bride perished in the attacks. But in her husband's heart, she lives on. Plus, a precious memento of a long-felt, heartfelt love. The remarkable story of the wreckage and the ring.

Good evening I am miles O'Brien from CNN Center in Atlanta. For the next half hour, we'll remember just some of the thousands of the casualties of the September 11th terrorist attacks. You will meet them and the loved ones left behind dealing with this devastated loss. But first an update on the evening's top stories for you.

Authorities say that he had the same terrorist training as the September 11th hijackers, but Zacarias Moussaoui is expected to plead not guilty to conspiracy charges when he is arraigned in U.S District Court in Virginia tomorrow. Moussaoui is the first person indicted directly in connection with the September 11th attacks. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

American Taliban fighter, John Walker and seven other wartime detainees are now being held aboard of the U.S.S. Baton in the North Arabian sea. They were removed from the U.S.S. Peleliu yesterday, because U.S. officials say that ship is preparing for other U.S. military missions.

U.S. Marines are returning from a search mission in the southern Afghan province where Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is believed to be hiding about 200 Marines conducted intelligence sweeps at a walled compound in Hellman Province. U.S. special forces are still in the area, they're working with local Afghan troops who are trying to get armed Taliban holdouts to surrender.

In neighboring Pakistan, a bomb exploded today outside a popular Karachi disco where hundreds of people were celebrating the new year. At least nine were wounded. No group claimed responsibility, but police say they suspect the bomb was planted by Islamic militants.

Political leaders in Argentina are trying to choose that country's fifth president in two weeks. They convened in special session today, but no new leader was chosen. Right now, Eduardo Comano (ph) is holding the nation's top office, but he'll only be president until lawmakers choose a more permanent replacement. And economic crisis highlighted by 18 percent unemployment triggered riots, and the leadership vacuum this country is now enduring.

In New York, the work continues at ground zero. We understand firefighters uncovered human remains again today. The death toll is about 3,000.

Another attempt to banish anthrax spores from a Senate office building is almost over and tonight experts say they're optimistic. The second try did the trick. Over the weekend, the Environmental Protection Agency pumped more poisonous gas into the Hart Senate Office Building. The agency feels this time the treatment was successful. If tests for anthrax come back negative, the building could be opened as soon as next week. It closed in October after Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle received an anthrax-tainted letter.

The mayor of Bloomberg era is officially under way in New York City. The last of three swearing-in ceremonies took place at noon outside city hall today. During his speech Bloomberg said he'll be asking parts of his government to do more with less, and he also promised to build political bridges within city government.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: As mayor, I will form a new partnership with Washington, with Albany, with our city council, with our borough presidents, with our community boards, with our municpel unions, with business and with all New Yorkers. The people have asked us to set aside partisan differences to overcome traditional barriers and to cooperate in this new partnership. This is a historic moment, we cannot afford to fight with each other. We must work together.


O'BRIEN: More than 4,000 people attended today's inauguration, including both New York senators and three former mayors.

Well for every big bash there is a healthy residue of trash, and cleaning up in the wake of the Times Square, New Year's eve soiree is no small undertaking. Check out this morning after scene. Crews sweeping up the mess at first light of the new year. Several hours earlier hundreds and thousands gathered to party until it dropped -- the ball that is. Security was tight as a drum for the bash, it seemed as boisterous as ever, however.

In Pasadena New Year's Day tradition continued today, thousands gathered for the annual tournament of roses parade. The crowd was a bit smaller this year. Like the celebration in Times Square, the event was trimmed in red, white and blue displays of patriotism. Three fighter jets and a stealth bomber buzzed overhead as the procession got under way.

Pope John Paul II reflected on the events of September 11 during New Year's mass at the Vatican. The Pontiff told worshipers that violence in God's name is never justified, and that the attacks on the U.S. have shaken the world. The pope urged every to work courageously toward peace.

And residents in 12 European countries are now cashing in their old currencies, the euro officially entered circulation today. The Change over is expected to impact about 300 million people. They still have several weeks to exchange their old money for the new uniformed currency.

Now, that you are up to date we shift focus to some of those hardest hit by September 11. One look at Brian Birdwell and you instantly know he is a fighter. Badly burned in the Pentagon attack, he's on the mend and with some help from family, friends, and an unshakeable faith. Here's CNN's Jonathan Aiken.


JONATHAN AIKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's a simple Christmas tree in the home of Lieutenant Colonel Brian and Mel Birdwell.

LT. COL. BRIAN BIRDWELL, SURVIVOR OF TERRORIST ATTACK: Even though it's the same tree that we've had for several years, it just looks prettier this Christmas.

AIKEN: Christmas at the Birdwell's isn't about fancy. It's about thanks. The only reason there is even a Christmas at the Birdwell home is because he had to leave his Pentagon office on the morning of September 11.

LT. COL. BRIAN BIRDWELL, PENTAGON SURVIVOR: My morning Coke had kicked in, and I had to go to the men's room right after we watched the plane go into -- the second plane hit the tower.

AIKEN: He never made it back.

B. BIRDWELL: I was returning. I had only had taken three, four steps out of the rest room, and then the explosion and the concussion had occurred.

AIKEN: American Airlines Flight 77 had just crashed into the Pentagon. He was 40 yards away.

B. BIRDWELL: I heard the sound, then the concussion knocked me down, and that's when the fireball comes through. I do not recall seeing fire coming at me, whether I was laying on my back or otherwise. I remember -- I am trying to get to my feet to get up, and I'm on fire.

AIKEN: As the first alarms were sounded, Colonel Birdwell fought to stand up and get back to his office. B. BIRDWELL: As I struggled -- I mean, I didn't wait to call out to my Lord and Savior, I, you know, I because I knew I was in bad shape. And without, you know, God's help, I was not going to get out of here. But I, you know, cried "Jesus, I am coming to see you."

Mel Birdwell was home-schooling their 12-year-old son Matthew when a friend called her and told her a plane had hit the Pentagon.

MEL BIRDWELL, WIFE OF PENTAGON SURVIVOR: So I knew that if he were in his office, that he was standing at the Throne of God, because there is just no way he could have survived it. Because where the plane hit was three windows from his window, from where his desk was.

AIKEN: While plumes of smoke rose from the Pentagon, Brian Birdwell collapsed under a corridor sprinkler, which doused the flames that had burned almost half of his body. After months of therapy, Lieutenant Colonel Birdwell wears compression gloves that reduce the scarring, protect his hands, and make it hard to use a fork.

B. BIRDWELL: My mom used to teach, you know, how you hold your fork between your middle and forefinger to, you know, to eat properly. Well, now I have to stab it, you know, like some untrained or ill- mannered person, and so it looks like I don't have any manners, but I got to do it to eat, so.

AIKEN: Out of the hospital and home for Christmas, the Birdwells begin to rebuild their lives.


B. BIRDWELL: Hey, Kurt. How are you doing buddy?


AIKEN: A chance to see old friends at a Christmas party. Receive the purple heart that was pinned to his hospital pillow, and join his coworkers once as they honor those who died by carrying the Olympic torch from the Pentagon.

Despite the physical pain and the searing memories of 9-1-1 --


B. BIRDWELL: Gosh that hurt.


AIKEN: Brian Birdwell's gift this Christmas comes from within. Faith, determination and hope.

B. BIRDWELL: It'll be a time of joy. Hey, I just spent the last thirteen weeks in the hospital. Folks, I'm back.

AIKEN: Back with his family, and the light of a simple Christmas tree that never looked better. Jonathan Aiken for CNN, Washington.


For the people who lived in the shadow of the World Trade Center, the return to normalacy remains elusive. Many are still unable to return to their homes. But the cataclysm on September 11 has also taught them an important lesson, that home is more of a matter of whom you are with, than where you may be.

CNN's Jason Carroll has our story.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been a while since people who lived in the shadows of the World Trade Center have been able to come together, to smile and rejoice.

But Battery Park City...

NANCY LOVING, BATTERY PARK RESIDENT: The park is crowded today...

CARROLL: a community that is slowly coming back to life, one family at a time.

N. LOVING: We're not going to have the life that we had, but we weren't ready to just pick up and move somewhere else.

CARROLL: Nancy and Kevin Loving, along with thousands of others fled their homes on September 11th. They are among the few who want to return. But for months it hasn't been safe.

N. LOVING: They detected asbestos and fiberglass. So they are doing an abatement.

CARROLL: Their home is a window away from ground zero. In their children's bedroom, scattered clothes. On a desk in the living room, disorganized papers, a metaphor for their lives, which has been interrupted by several moves and some temporary apartments. And many good byes, to friends who've decided it's just too painful to stay.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Bye. Love you guys.

CARROLL (on camera): : Do you understand though, why some people want to leave?

N. LOVING: Absolutely.

KEVIN LOVING, BATTERY PARK RESIDENT: Absolutely yes. I mean, it's proven to be very difficult.

CARROLL (voice-over): In such a difficult time, it's hard working in a holiday. Or even having the spirit.

N. LOVING: Now, onto the Christmas list. Try to get happy. I know it's hard.

CARROLL (on camera): In combination with everything else that you're dealing with. How do you do that? How does that work?

N. LOVING: Well we -- yeah, he's laughing because...

K. LOVING: It doesn't work, didn't work.

N. LOVING: It does -- It will work, No. It will work. What about puzzles? He really loves puzzles -- there is so much sadness. But at the same time it's so important, shopping yesterday for some of the Christmas things. It made me happy again, it made me -- you know what? It was our opportunity to give, to stop focusing on ourselves.

CARROLL (voice-over): Instead of themselves, the Lovings are focusing on others, namely their three children. Weston, Elise and Elliot.

K. LOVING: Yeah, right there, that's good.

CARROLL: This Christmas they made a few ornaments.

WESTON LOVING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I think its silly.

CARROLL: And added the names of their schoolmates who moved away. By the New Year, they should be back in their real home. But they say they already have the best gift of all, each other.

Jason Carol, CNN, New York.


A northern Californian woman lost her husband when Flight 93 plunged into a Pennsylvania field. But tonight, she has more than memories to keep their love alive in her heart.



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