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Remembering 9/11: Black smoke over Arlington

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This photo was taken by Ruth Anne Rosati a few minutes after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, on Sept. 11, 2001.

The limousine driver had not turned the radio on as he drove the Moreau family to Arlington National Cemetery that morning for the funeral of retired Navy Chief Petty Officer and systems engineer Raymond Moreau. 

His son Ray Moreau, of Manassas, was in the limo, on his way to saying a last goodbye to his father.

Moreau, known as “Little Ray” to his family, said the first inkling that something was amiss was when he noticed a former coworker of his dad’s holding a radio to his ear as they walked to the chapel.

“What are you listening to – the game?” Moreau quipped. 

The coworker said: “The twin towers were just hit,” Moreau said. “It didn’t register at first.” 

But a half hour later, the mourners recoiled as a tremendous blast shook the windows and walls of the cemetery’s reception center.

Twenty-seven funerals were scheduled at Arlington on Sept. 11, 2001; honor guards were carrying out the solemn ritual of folding the flag over coffins or urns for those who were cremated.

Those honoring the elder Moreau included colleagues from EDS, a defense contractor where he was a popular manager, as well as fellow Vietnam War veterans and some still working in the Pentagon.

“There are Navy people that were at the service who are alive because they weren’t in their offices at the Pentagon,” said Harold Lutz, of Warrenton, a Vietnam veteran who worked for Moreau at EDS.

Moreau’s son said, “As we started the procession to the Columbarium, we get interrupted by the military police. They said the Pentagon was just hit and that there will not be a flag folding ceremony. All these soldiers, all these military people, are going to have to leave, they told us.”

Black smoke billowed over the cemetery from the gaping wound in the Pentagon’s west wing, less than a half-mile from where they stood.

Ruthie Rosati, a next-door neighbor to Moreau’s widow Jane, ran back to her car, parked along a cemetery road, to retrieve her Olympus camera. 

“This was back in the day when nobody had a camera. I just happened to have mine because after the funeral we were going to go to a condo we were trying to sell and take pictures of it,” she said.

She aimed her lens across the rows of tombstones and captured an image like no other from that tragic morning in Arlington.

The chaplain held an abbreviated service and asked, “Is there anyone here that can stand in for the military folks to fold the flag?”

Many stepped forward to do their part.

“That was so wonderful, seeing these guys that worked for my dad. They all stood and folded the flag,” Moreau said.

Lutz remembers the dazed look on the civilians’ faces that said, “What do we do now?”

They left and slowly made their way to Jane Moreau’s home in Herndon. Stranded relatives who had flown in from Massachusetts camped on cots and sleeping bags in Ray Moreau’s Manassas house for the next two nights.

Rosati, then a stay-at-home mom, took her roll of film to Costco and had prints of the dramatic moment made for Jane Moreau and others. She let the editor of a weekly newspaper, the Herndon Connection, run it on page 17 of his Sept. 21, 2001, issue. She was not compensated.

Years later, she tried to contact someone doing a book on 9/11 to see if he was interested in reprinting it, but nothing came of that.

Now a school bus driver, Rosati said she headed straight home from the cemetery that morning. 

“I was worried about our two boys. When I picked up Kevin, my first grader, he asked what was happening, who would do something like this. I said, ‘Somebody doesn’t like our country.’”

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