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U.S. News
Sgt. Dennis Lapic: Army history team

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Army Sgt. 1st Class Dennis Lapic patrols Washington, D.C., with a tape recorder instead of a rifle.

Lapic, of Industry in Beaver County, has spent 11 months interviewing eyewitnesses to the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

The five hijackers who flew a jet into America's military headquarters killed 189 people, including themselves. Thousands of other lives changed in that morning of madness.

Lapic is part of a contingent of Army, Navy and civilian government employees writing a book about the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon. The publisher is the U.S. Department of Defense, which believes that mistakes are less likely to be repeated if history is recorded and studied.

Stephen Lofgren, chief of oral history operations at the Army's Center of Military History, said more than 1,000 witnesses have spoken for the book. He estimated that Lapic had conducted more than a hundred interviews himself.

"Dennis has been one of the real workhorses," Lofgren said. "He pursues information doggedly but intelligently."

Before Sept. 11, Lapic, 47, was an Army reservist with a full civilian life. He was about to be married, and he was busy making a living as a territorial sales manager for a company that sells tractors.

Because of the hijackers and the mass murder they committed, his own life turned upside down.

Lapic got married Oct. 2, just before the Army called him and two other Western Pennsylvania reservists to active duty. Sent to Fort McNair in Washington, they began tracking down witnesses. Except for an occasional weekend, Lapic has lived apart from his wife, Rose Mary, since then.

His work on the book has revealed the best and worst about Americans.

He found one motorist whose adrenaline began pumping when he saw American Airlines Flight 77 plow into the west face of the Pentagon.

The man's instinct was to abandon his car and run to the building to help in any way he could. In the hurry to park, he bumped the car in front of him, then got out and started racing toward the Pentagon. The other driver, oblivious to the fact that hundreds were dying, hounded him for his insurance card.

Lapic said work on the book should wind down this month.

His employer, MTD Products, based in Valley City, Ohio, has been understanding about his absence. A company supervisor is handling Lapic's accounts.

Trying to juggle his Army assignment in Washington and family life in Beaver County has been more problematic.

"It's not good for a marriage," Lapic says.

When his schedule permits, Lapic makes the five-hour drive home to see Rose Mary, his stepdaughter and his two younger children from a previous marriage.

His Army pay is less than what he made in sales, but Lapic is not complaining about the hardship. He never thought a call-up by the Army would place him on domestic soil. He also could not have imagined that the Pentagon would be hit by terrorists.

One lingering issue in Washington, Lapic said, is what to do with the remains of the five hijackers. Normally mild-mannered, Lapic is outspoken on that topic.

"I'd feed them to the dogs if I could," he said.

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