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Jacksonville, Alabama

A Brother's Tribute to Dwayne Williams
A Victim of the Pentagon Attack

JACKSONVILLE -- September 26, 2001 -- This column running in The Birmingham News on Sunday, Sept. 22, where I work, is my tribute to the life of my brother Dwayne. I didn't want a terrorist attack to be the lasting memory of what they did to him.

We family members and friends who love Dwayne will always miss him and never accept what happened. But I have joy in knowing Dwayne is home in heaven and we will see him again.

It was the most difficult piece I have written in 14 years of journalism.

Even a few hours after finding out about Dwayne's death, I went to the News to make changes to better reflect what he meant to all of us. We will never forget him.

God bless - Roy


Terrorist Attack Can't Break Family's Faith and Spirit


Birmingham News Staff Writer

Like millions of other Americans, I was in a state of disbelief watching televised images Sept. 11 of airplanes striking the World Trade Center.

My heart sunk as I thought of the pain and anguish relatives of those killed or missing must be experiencing.

Never did I imagine that my own family would be going through that same emotional turmoil less than an hour later when another jet struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where my oldest brother, Army Maj. Dwayne Williams, worked.

I was sitting at my desk watching scenes of the World Trade Center towers on fire when I received a frantic phone call from my mother, Pearl Williams. She told me a plane had just struck the Pentagon and expressed worry about Dwayne.

I told her she was mistaken; the planes struck the World Trade Center, not the Pentagon, and assured her Dwayne was OK. After hanging up the phone, I looked up at the first televised images of the plane crash at the Pentagon.

I immediately called my mother and informed her I would check on Dwayne's status. The next few hours were mired by frustration as phone calls to Dwayne's office in the Pentagon and home wouldn't go through.

I finally reached Dwayne's home around noon and left a voice message for his wife, Tammy, to call me with word that my brother was OK. At 2 p.m., five hours after the Pentagon attack, I reached Tammy's mother and was told that she had spoken to her daughter, who was worried sick because Dwayne had not called to say he was OK.

That was unlike Dwayne: he would have called his wife and children.

Shortly before midnight with still no word from Dwayne, I couldn't sleep and turned on the television for the latest news on the Pentagon. What I heard confirmed my worst fears: the jet had struck a section housing Army offices where Dwayne worked.

The next morning, I reported to work but wasn't able to concentrate. Tears flowed as I imagined the horrors my brother and other victims in the Pentagon and World Trade Center experienced.

The Army and Pentagon had my brother Dwayne listed as missing and feared dead. Nine days went by with no official word on Dwayne's fate, and our pain got agonizingly worse as time went by.

On Friday, Sept. 21, 10 days after the Pentagon attack, the news I had dreaded finally arrived: Dwayne had been declared dead. The bad news came around 1:45 p.m. with a call from my sobbing mother: "It's official; Dwayne's been identified as among the dead," she said. He had apparently been among the 150 unidentified dead victims lying at Dover Air Force Base in Washington, D.C.

I didn't want to believe it, and hours later remained in a state of disbelief. Yet at the same time, I'm glad the waiting is over and the Williams family can move on in our grief. I will never be able to fully accept the fact that my brother's life was taken in such a despicable manner, but I am at peace in knowing that Dwayne was a Christian and is at home with the Lord.

In my mind, I see God's angels descending upon the Pentagon and snatching Dwayne and the other innocent victims from the building just as the plane hit, carrying them home to that peaceful place we all want to go: heaven. I thank God my mother, Pearl, and brother, Kim, an Army Sgt. First Class stationed in Arizona, were in Washington, D.C. to help comfort Dwayne's wife and children when the news we feared arrived.

The hardest part about this whole ordeal had been the wait. We wanted closure by receiving word that Dwayne has been found OK or that the Lord has called him home.

Despite the fact that his chances of survival grow slimmer day by day, we haven't given up hope. Our faith has sustained the family throughout this living nightmare.

I've gone through a wave of emotions - anger and bitterness toward the terrorists; sadness and sorrow; disbelief and shock; denial and an unwillingness to accept the possibility that Dwayne is dead.

But closure now allows the family to move into the grief process.

Although I constantly worried about the fate of my brother, I am at peace in knowing Dwayne is a Christian and that God's angels are protecting him. Much of the grief my wife, Patrice, and I are experiencing has been lessened by the comforting words of my pastor, Jim Lowe of the Guiding Light Church in Roebuck.

For the past three months, Pastor Lowe has been preaching a sermon series on how to cope with trouble and strife. I didn't know those sermons would apply so deeply and personally in my own personal life.

I have a horrible aching pain in the pit of my stomach that grows worse by day. Leaning on the Lord is the only thing that can sustain someone going through a traumatic event like this. My church, the Guiding Light, is grieving with us and shares our pain.

In this world that we live in, you are either going into a personal storm, in the midst of a storm or coming out of one. How you cope with the situation is determined by your faith in God. We must learn to look beyond the circumstances of this world to the powerful, comforting presence of God.

Patrice and I are not only suffering anguish in the possible loss of my brother, but also one of our best friends. Dwayne served as my best man in our wedding 10 years ago and we communicated with him and his wife, Tammy, almost weekly either via e-mail or telephone.

Patrice is expecting our second child in February and I am trying my best to keep her calm, but she feels and shares my pain. I thank God that our daughter, Naja, is just 2 and too young to fully comprehend what is going on.

I thank God that Naja did get a chance to see her Uncle Dwayne again this past June when his family stopped by to visit us on the way to report to the Pentagon.

Dwayne and I, along with our wives, have taken vacations together to Cancun, Mexico and other places. When he was stationed in Egypt, we viewed the awesome wonder of the Great Pyramid and Sphinx together.

Even though the terrorists attack killed Dwayne, we still have comfort in knowing that God has called him home to heaven. A terrorist attack may be able to destroy this earthly body, but cannot destroy Dwayne's spirit, which is alive and well in all of family members and friends.

What makes this so excruciatingly painful to cope with is that Dwayne had just completed officer training school in Kansas and got the assignment to the Pentagon just three months ago. It was to be the highlight moment of his career. One would think that serving at the military headquarters building would be the safest place in the world to serve.

Dwayne served in the Persian Gulf War and spent three years in Egypt, a scene of many terrorists attacks, for three years yet came home unscathed. Then this happened.

Dwayne is one of three of my brothers serving this great country in the military: the others are Kim, mentioned above, and my identical twin brother, Air Force Staff Sgt. Troy L. Williams. In the back of my mind, I always worried about them being injured or killed in battle. I never imagined one would fall victim to a terrorist attack in our homeland.

Let me paint a picture of Dwayne to show that my brother is more than a statistic in this senseless tragedy that killed and injured more than 5,000 innocent people.

Dwayne is a loving husband to his wife Tammy, and a devoted father to a 13-year-old daughter, Kelsie, and 17-year-old son, Tyler.

He is the beloved son of my parents, Horace and Pearl Williams, of Jacksonville, Ala.

He is a protecting big brother to me and my other two brothers, Kim and Troy.

He is a star athlete, having lettered in high school football and basketball, then later played for four years on the University of North Alabama football team as a receiver.

He is a man of strong moral character, who rarely displayed much emotion but is quick to express love in his own quiet way. And he is a friend to many.

To get a true picture of the horrible ordeal and anguish this country has been going through during the past week, simply multiply the devastation my family is experiencing by relatives of the 5,000 other victims either killed or still missing in these attacks.

It's a numbing, horrible feeling I pray that no other family has to experience themselves. Please pray for all of the victims of these terrible attacks. God bless America.

Roy L. Williams is a staff writer with The Birmingham News. You can reach him at rwilliams@bhamnews.com.


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