Pentagon Attack Widower: ‘We Need to Go on’ in Spite of Needless Suffering

BY Daniel Sagalyn  September 7, 2011 at 12:23 PM EST



For Thomas Heidenberger, the emotional scars are still fresh. His wife, Michele, was the lead flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 77, which flew into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

During a recent media event at the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial, a reporter asked: Is there one thing that you haven’t been asked that you wish you had been asked? Heidenberger — a founding director of the Pentagon Memorial Fund and who up until this time had answered a number of questions from journalists in a calm and cool way — choked up, his eyes becoming teary.

“I would like to be someplace else. I wish it didn’t happen. I just wish it didn’t happen,” Heidenberger said. “Not just to Michele, but families were devastated … A lot of people suffer. And there is needless suffering. But we need to go on.”

In an interview with The PBS NewsHour, Heidenberger said he often visits the memorial and thinks about his wife while sitting on the bench dedicated to her. He said he liked how the memorial is made up of 184 benches, each representing a person who was killed either on Flight 77 or in the Pentagon.

The benches are aligned in the direction of the flight path with each bearing a victim’s name. If a person was killed inside the building, the engraving can be viewed only with the Pentagon as its background. If a visitor sees the sky above the engraved name, it means the victim was on the hijacked flight.

View a slideshow of the Pentagon Memorial dedication ceremony.

Video editing assistance by Justin Scuiletti.