WASHINGTON, May 3, 2011 — When Wendy Duffman first heard that Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida’s leader and the mastermind behind 9/11, was dead, she felt a sense of elation, then relief.
Her brother, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Scott Eric Duffman, died four years ago in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan — a war launched in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks. And as an American Airlines flight attendant in 2001, she lost friends and colleagues on the planes that crashed into the Pentagon and Twin Towers, and onto a field in Pennsylvania.
“I woke up for the first time in four years feeling like my brother didn’t die in vain,” Duffman said.
The news of bin Laden’s death May 1 set off an emotional chain reaction across the nation. As the president prepared to brief the nation, hundreds of people gathered in front of the White House to celebrate the news and display their patriotism, waving American flags and singing the national anthem. Since then, social media networks have lit up with celebratory comments.
The reaction has been somewhat more subdued among surviving family members who lost a loved one on 9/11 or in the subsequent and related wars. While elated at bin Laden’s death, Duffman said, she feels it’s a “small victory.”
“I don’t want people to forget there are others like bin Laden,” she said. “The war isn’t over. We still have troops in harm’s way.” Many survivors have mixed emotions about the news, said Ami Neiberger-Miller, spokeswoman for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a support group for survivors of fallen military loved ones.
Neiberger-Miller noted that some people have talked of a sense of closure because of bin Laden’s demise. Yet, “there’s not a sense of real closure; you can’t have closure from something like this,” she said.
Lisa Dolan understands that firsthand. Her husband, Navy Capt. Bob Dolan, was killed in the Pentagon on 9/11 when Flight 77 struck the building. The news of bin Laden’s death seemed surreal at first, Dolan said, then bittersweet.
“Nothing will bring back my husband and the almost 3,000 men, women and children that were killed on Sept. 11, 2011,” she said. “Is there some vindication in the death of bin Laden? Maybe. However, I do feel incredibly proud of our military. They have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.”
Dolan’s son, Beau, was at college -– he’s a freshman at Notre Dame — when he heard the news. At first he felt “dumbstruck,” he said. Then, “I started to realize how great it was, [and] the feeling of being dumbstruck transformed into sheer excitement.
“I couldn’t believe that it was finally over,” he said. “There seemed to be a chapter that had been finally finished in my life.” In a display of unity, scores of students ran up and down the campus “quad” chanting “USA” and singing patriotic songs, he recalled. “It really was an awesome experience and display of love for the country,” he said. Dolan’s daughter, Rebecca, is coupling her excitement with caution.
“I’ve always had it in my mind that Osama bin Laden … might always be there looming,” she said. “I’m excited to think that there is one fewer terrorist out there. I also feel that there is still work to be done — that bin Laden’s death does not signal the end of terrorism as we know it.” .
Trish Lawton also is concerned about the repercussions of bin Laden’s death. “It’s a little scary,” she said. “How many groups are going to want to avenge his death? How is that going to affect our normal day-to-day life? It brings me to wonder what lies ahead.”
Lawton learned of bin Laden’s death yesterday morning, while getting her two sons ready for school. Her husband, Marine Capt. Garret Lawton, was killed in 2008 by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. The boys were ages 4 and 6 at the time of their father’s death, she said. “I know that my late husband would have been elated that our servicemembers had a successful mission,” she said.
As for her sons, “Maybe they will feel some sort of peace that their dad played a part in eventually making today possible,” she said, close to tears. While emotions seem to be running the gamut from elation to caution, Miller has traced a common thread of patriotism among survivors. Many people within the survivor community have changed their social networking profile picture to a patriotic symbol or to a picture of their lost loved one, she said.
Miller changed her Facebook profile picture to a picture of her brother’s tombstone. Army Spc. Christopher Neiberger was killed Aug. 6, 2007, in Baghdad. “I would hope I would never celebrate the death of another human being, but I do feel that justice was served,” she said of bin Laden’s death. “I’m very proud of my brother and the military and all of those people who have given so much.
“It’s a momentous day for a lot of people,” she said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)