Peoria Journal Star
September 11, 2006
'With every tragedy, there's room to heal'
Manual High School graduate says she
will never forget images she saw at the Pentagon
By Dori Meinert
of Copley News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. - When the Pentagon was evacuated after
the terrorist attack in 2001, Army Sgt. 1st Class Holli Crawford
ran outside, scooping up two toddlers from the child care center
as she went.
The Peoria native remembers a lot of screaming and crying as
word spread that there may be a second attack - even while
Pentagon workers stared at the growing black cloud over their
But the image that remains seared in her mind five years later
is the pile of white body bags when she returned to work on Sept.
12. They were laid out in the Pentagon courtyard, where employees
usually enjoyed their lunch.
"I'll never forget that experience at all," said Crawford, 38,
a 1986 graduate of Manual High School in Peoria.
However, she is intent on making something good come out of it.
For her, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks is "a
stepping stone of healing."
"With every tragedy, there's room to heal," Crawford said. "We
can take it, and we can heal. We don't want to focus on what
happened. I want to focus on the positive.
"We should be grateful for the people who are still here. We
should be grateful for what we still have."
At the Pentagon, she was the executive assistant to the deputy
assistant secretary of defense. As "war planners," Crawford and
her co-workers worked around the clock in the weeks after the
In 2003, she was selected for a prestigious position with the
White House Communications Agency, part of a traveling team that
ensures communications support for first lady Laura Bush. She's
been traveling a couple of weeks every three months or so but will
be traveling more extensively as the campaign season heats up.
"Wherever you see them on television, we're there behind the
scenes," Crawford said of her new job, which she said leaves "no
room for error."
She still sees her former Pentagon co-workers.
"We still come together and talk," she said.
To this day, Crawford's 11-year-old daughter doesn't like her
mom to go to the Pentagon. A classmate's mother was killed at the
Pentagon that day, and it hit her hard.
"I was in the Pentagon a couple of months ago, and she doesn't
feel good about me taking classes there even now," Crawford said.
Crawford said she has neither the time nor the urge to watch
any of the recently released movies depicting the terrorist
"I don't desire to relive that moment. I'm all about moving on
and healing. If you keep going back, you can't heal," she said.
On the fifth anniversary of the attack, Crawford intends to
have lunch with her former colleagues at the Pentagon - if she's
not traveling for work.
She plans to retire from the military in two years or so, after
she completes her master's degree in public administration. She
hopes to get a job with the government, maybe back at the
"I've been in the military since I was 18 years old, so that's
what I know," she said.
Crawford, who was a deeply religious woman before the terrorist
attacks, recently began a Bible study at work. She believes that
God put her at the Pentagon at that time for a reason and that the
experience has changed her.
"I look at people differently now," she said. "I don't take
things for granted."
"We can't forget, but we can learn from it and understand what
happened and do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn't happen
Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or email@example.com.