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‘Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday’: Widow of local 9/11 victim speaks at county ceremony

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Prince William County's 9/11 remembrance service: Brenda Lynch

Brenda Lynch, who now lives in Arkansas, remembers her husband, James T. Lynch Jr., a Prince William County resident and civilian electronics technician who was killed at the Pentagon on 9/11.

A remembrance service marking the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, drew about 100 people to Prince William County’s Liberty Memorial fountain Friday morning. But it was very personal to one of them.

“I lost my husband that day and my life changed. We had planned things we were doing to do when we both retired and that was just not going to happen,” Brenda Lynch told those gathered on Sept. 10 – a day strikingly similar to that Tuesday morning, nearly 20 years ago. It was crisp and breezy without a cloud in the sky.

“Sometimes it feels like it was 20 years ago and sometimes it feels like it was yesterday,” she said.  

James T. Lynch Jr., a civilian electronics technician, was among the 184 killed at the Pentagon that day. A total of 22 Prince William area residents died during the terrorist attacks, the most of any jurisdiction in the Washington area, said Ann Wheeler, chair of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

“Today we honor those people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” Wheeler said. “Today we pause at the Liberty Memorial to pay homage to our loved ones, friends and neighbors who made the ultimate sacrifice 20 years ago.”

The Liberty Memorial, a pentagon-shaped structure, was completed in 2006. In its center are two fountains symbolizing the World Trade Center. The walkway surrounding it is made of Pennsylvania flagstone representing those who died on Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

Brenda Lynch, along with Laurie Laychak who also lost her husband David, an Army budget analyst, at the Pentagon, were members of the Liberty Memorial Committee that created it.

Lynch said she felt it was important to build the memorial. 

“We have to remember so it never happens again,” she said. Lynch traveled from her home state of Arkansas where she now lives to attend the service.

“It was important for me to be here,” she said.

In her remarks, Lynch pointed out that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when the terrorist attacks occurred.

Over the years, she said she remembers events framed around her husband – “before and after Jimmy.” 

Lynch had bought her husband a birthday gift of a flagpole to fly an American flag in front of their house. After he died, she donated it to the Liberty Memorial, where it still stands.

“He was a patriotic person. He would have wanted to see it here. It’s where it belongs,” she said.

Bill Milne, chairman of the Prince William County Planning Commission, was a U.S. Coast Guard captain commanding a ship in the New York Harbor on Sept. 11, 2001, and responded to the Twin Towers collapse.

Milne said he was in the wardroom of his ship having a cup of coffee when he learned of the attacks. “Like all of us, we turned on the TV and watched in horror,” he said. His crew quickly prepared the ship with fuel and water and headed out. 

“We passed the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan in front of us. The plume of smoke went right over the ship, and it struck us that the skyline was going to be different. The smoke, the smell, went on for days. These are the things I remember,” Milne said.

At Ground Zero, Milne and his crew watched first responders struggle with the debris, soot, dust and smoke in the air. Fire hoses covered the streets and gray sludge that was once concrete. 

“Visualize soot-covered firemen with red helmets looking like ants on a massive hill of concrete,” he said.

Milne talked about welder cutting through steel looking for survivors and barges loaded tall with debris. 

The Coast Guard continued to patrol, ensuring all were safe.

“While history will not let us forget this day, know that each morning brings a day of hope. Remember the past and live for the future,” Milne said.

The memorial service concluded with members of the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department laying a wreath in front of the Liberty Memorial and the playing of "Taps."

Reach Aileen Streng at aileenstreng@gmail.com

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