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Miss. 9/11 families relieved about bin Laden death

 

The Associated Press

 

JACKSON -- Mississippians impacted by the 9/11 terror attacks say they''re relieved Osama bin Laden is dead, although his demise doesn''t alter their memories of a day that jolted Americans'' sense of security. 

 

Carolyn Hicks'' 41-year-old son, Lt. Col. Jerry Don "D.D." Dickerson of Durant, was working at the Pentagon and was killed when a hijacked plane struck the building on Sept. 11, 2001. 

 

She said bin Laden''s death was a "pleasant shock," but it does not bring closure for her loss. 

 

Jeff Hammond of Hattiesburg survived in the Pentagon. He told The Clarion-Ledger that he watched in horror on the TV in his third-floor office after two jets already had smashed into the World Trade Center. He said his phone rang with a call from Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army''s Chief of Staff, who was overseas and wanted to know how the Army was responding. 

 

Hammond dashed down to a secure line in the Pentagon basement to take the call. Seconds later, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building, tearing through the office Hammond had left. Among the 125 killed were two of Hammond''s staff and six co-workers. 

 

Hammond is now a retired Army major general and He retired from the Army in September 2010 and became the senior associate athletic director at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, where he once played quarterback. He called bin Laden''s death "a magnificent success." 

 

"It didn''t happen overnight," Hammond said. "We, as a nation, have had to be patient." 

 

Gulfport native Pamela Stennis Wilkins worked in the World Trade Center''s south tower and was in the lobby when a plane hit the building. She told The Sun Herald she wasn''t sad to read bin Laden''s obituary. 

 

"I didn''t think about bin Laden a lot," Wilkins said. "For me, 9-11 is kind of like when you lose someone you''re really close to. The further the distance time puts between you and the loss, well, it''s not necessarily a bad thing. As time pushes it further and further, it''s just not something in the forefront of my mind, and I don''t live in New York City anymore." 

 

She moved back to her native Gulfport early in 2002. She has since married and now has a 4-year-old son. And, like many on the Gulf Coast, her life was changed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  

 

Hammond said that as he learned of bin Laden''s death late Sunday, he thought of the friends and staffers he lost at the Pentagon. He commanded 28,000 soldiers in Iraq. 

 

"I also thought of the 98 soldiers I lost under my last command in Iraq, most of them killed by al-Qaida," Hammond said. "I thought of their families. I hope this gives them comfort; unfortunately, it doesn''t give them back the lives of the beautiful kids we lost." 

 

Lamarris Williams, a 27-year-old Marine from Natchez, said 9/11 wasn''t his sole reason for joining the military in 2002. He wanted to "be a part of something" and also have an avenue for paying for college. In 2004, he was sent to Afghanistan. 

 

"Most of our missions were in search of Osama bin Laden," he said. 

 

Williams said he was relieved when he heard about bin Laden''s death, but he also has reservations about the future. 

 

"I feel like we have avenged the people who died in 9/11, but there are ramifications with everything," he said. 

 

Hammond said that on 9/11, the commanding general told Pentagon employees to call their loved ones. 

 

"I called my wife Diane; our two kids were in elementary school," Hammond said. "Diane had seen the pictures on TV. I just said, ''Honey, I love you. It''s a tough situation, but we''re going to figure it out.'' At the time we didn''t know how much damage there was. We knew the roof of the Pentagon, just above our office was on fire." 

 

Hours later, Hammond climbed through the wreckage where his office had been. 

 

"I had to see for myself; I had to check on my people," Hammond said. "It was like a smashed Coke can up there. I knew there was no way they could have survived." 

 

 

 

 

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