Terrorist attack reverberates on Whidbey

"Less than a month after visiting Whidbey Island to talk about the needs of veterans and the readiness of our military, Congressman Rick Larsen looked out the window of his office in Washington, D.C. and saw a plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon.A member of the House Armed Services Committee, the 2nd District representative is deeply involved in the effort in Congress to react to Tuesday's massive terrorism attack on America. Speaking by telephone on Wednesday, he said he arrived at his office at 9 a.m. Tuesday to find the televisions turned on. You've got to see this, his staff told him. He watched the second World Trade Center tower hit by an airliner, and before long there was talk that something had happened in the nation's capital.From my window I could see smoke rising at the Pentagon, Larsen said. The Pentagon is about 3 miles away from the Longworth House Office Building where Larsen has his offices, across the Potomac River.A staff meeting was interrupted by House Security, which informed the Congressman that the building was being evacuated. By 10:30 a.m. his staff was in the street.When Larsen arrived home that night, his wife and 5-year-old son were watching TV.Larsen said his son asked, Why did those mean people want to fly their airplane into those buildings?That was a tough question for the first-term Congressman to answer. How do you explain that people don't like the United States? he asked. How do you explain the hate?Congress quickly passed a resolution this week condemning the terrorist act. There was really no debate to condemn the terrorists and those who harbor them, Larsen said. I guarantee you we will be going around the world to eradicate terrorism.Back on Whidbey Island, the naval air station Larsen visited last month was buckled down for combat, letting only authorized persons on base after careful security checks. For a few hours Tuesday, the Deception Pass Bridge was closed and the ferries in Clinton and Keystone were closed to vehicle traffic.Reaction among islanders was shock, combined with a feeling that the U.S. has to strike back.Recalling bombs, death in BerlinHelga Johnson, longtime real estate agent in Freeland, has a unique perspective on the bombing. As a child, her German family fled flames and bombs in Austria and Berlin. Although just a little girl when it happened, she still remembers the bunkers, the dark basements, the burning bodies, the bombs coming down. It was awful.With that background, Johnson can't understand how terrorists could bring it all back by killing thousands of innocent Americans.How can anybody hate that much? Johnson wondered.She has mixed emotions about the coming U.S. response, but realizes something must be done. You can't really attack a country for a few crazies, but if we don't do anything we're fair game for the next wave of terrorists, she said.One thing Johnson finds comfort in is the support for America in her homeland and around the world. She said her brother, Helmut Thiliptsen, lives in Berlin and told her of that city's reaction. They're crying in Berlin, they're all praying for the Americans, she said.Flight attendant calls for actionBush Point resident Linda Wilson recently retired as a flight attendant, and has many friends in the airline business. She couldn't believe the scenes on TV and the descriptions of the airline highjackings. I was numb; I was in shock all day, she said.Wilson said she and other flight attendants always worried about security on flights, even though they received training. We train every year, but we all pray it'll never happen to us, she said. She was never confident the pilots were adequately protected. Those flimsy doors wouldn't keep anyone out, she said.Wilson said she and her friends would like a return to armed guards on airplanes, as happened during the highjacking scare in the 1970s when some planes were taken to Cuba. We had armed sky marshals, ex-cops and military police, and the highjacking stopped, she said.As for the American response to this week's terrorism, she's resigned to a strong reaction. We have to do something or the rest of the world is going to think we're weak, she said.General, soldiers expect actionAndy Pringle, who retired in 1982 as a major general in the Air Force, and remains one of the highest ranking military retirees on South Whidbey.Pringle gained vast experience overseas during his career. He said he supports a strong response to Tuesday's terrorism, but he's not expecting a huge war to break out.There are radical groups all over the industrialized West, Pringle said. We can't combat them like they do us, but no doubt we'll go after them systematically, in as humane a way as possible.Pringle said President Ronald Reagan provided a good model for action when he attacked Libya following terrorism against Americans in the 1980s. Bombs were dropped on the residence of the Libyan dictator. We went after the leadership, and it took Ghadafi out of the terrorism business, he said.Pringle's main concern isn't terrorism so much as the character of the American people. Do we have the will to stick with it? he wondered. Our lives are not going to be the same.If the United States sends troops into combat, some soldiers from South Whidbey could go to the front lines. Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said his 18-year-old son, Alex, is waiting for orders at California's 29 Palms Marine Base. A private in the Marines, Alex joined the corps last spring.He's sitting in his barracks on one-hour notice, Hawley said Thursday.Having his son ready to go into battle has brought Tuesday's tragedy home for Hawley. He said his wife, M'liss, is anxious and worried over the possibility that Alex could be shipped off at any time. "

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