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Peters Township: Survivor of Pentagon attack has a positive attitude

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

By Sarah Zablotsky, Tri-State Sports & News Service

Lt. Kevin Shaeffer says he is not a hero but a survivor.

Shaeffer survived the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building. Of the 30 military personnel in that section of the Naval Command Center that day, only Shaeffer survived.

The former naval strategist emerged with lung damage from inhaling jet fuel and with second- and third-degree burns over half of his body. He has had at least 13 surgeries, including numerous skin grafts, and had to wear full-body burn garments for more than a year.

Because of his ordeal, the 1990 Peters Township High School graduate has been described as courageous and heroic, a few of the characteristics he discussed Friday with students at McMurray Elementary School.

In town to deliver a baccalaureate speech to Peters Township High School seniors, he volunteered to discuss his experiences with the younger students. During his conversation, Shaeffer offered insights into the district's Character Counts program and discussed the definitions of integrity and honor.

"What people tend to forget is that there are little things you can do every day to be a hero," he said. With a positive attitude that is contagious, he spoke of bullying and of having the courage to take a stand on an issue.

Kevin credits his faith and his wife, Blanca, "my rock," for giving him strength throughout the last 20 months.

He no longer has to wear burn garments and can handle physical therapy on his own at home. His golf swing has returned, and the Shaeffers are expecting their first child.

In March, Shaeffer became a staff member on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a presidential and congressional commission that is investigating the events leading up to and the response immediately after the 9/11 attacks.

After the commission makes its report in May of 2004, he will pursue a career dealing with homeland security and counterterrorism issues.

When asked specific questions about his experience, Shaeffer admitted it was extremely difficult to lose so many close friends, but the thought of them and their families is a reminder that he should attempt to help others in any way possible.

"I think that I survived for a reason, and that is to send a positive message to others, and that's really important to me."

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