Dallas High grad survives Pentagon blast

Sherry Grippen of Dallas waited for more than 13 hours, not knowing if her son, Larry, was alive or dead.

DALLAS -- Sherry Grippen of Dallas waited for more than 13 hours, not knowing if her son, Larry, was alive or dead.

The odds were not promising.

Lt. Cmdr. Larry Grippen, a 1981 graduate of Dallas High School, is a manpower analyst for the U.S. Navy.

He works at the Pentagon.

His tiny cubicle lies directly in the suicide flight path of American Airlines Flight 77.

He and his coworkers were watching the news about the World Trade Center at the time.

"Several minutes later, we just felt a tremendous shake. The building just trembled. We saw smoke and we just knew something was wrong."

They had only one thought, Grippen said. "Get out of the building."

That was easier for Grippen and his coworkers than for many of their comrades in the Navy/Marine Corps wing of the Pentagon.

Although Grippen worked on fifth and highest floor of the Pentagon, he worked toward the rear of the wing near the interior courtyard.

Through the screams and confusion, Grippen and his coworkers made it down a stairway and out to the courtyard. "We weren't sure what anyone else was doing," he said.

One might think the possibility of attack is always in the back of a military man's mind.

Not really, said Grippen.

"The thought never crossed my mind."

The Pentagon is such a fortress. "There are a lot of security measures already in place in the Pentagon and it seemed like a secure place to work.

Grippen has been to the Persian Gulf and served on board five ships. "I always thought that was more dangerous. If I had been closer in, I'd be dead."

Once out of the Pentagon, Grippen set about the task of notifying his family.

His wife, Tricia, was grocery shopping on an Army base when the Pentagon was attacked. The entire base was locked down. It took her a long time to get home to the phone.

There were at least 10 messages on the answering machine, each one frantically asking about Larry. The last voice she heard was his.

"I'm safe. I'll be home soon. I love you."

The Grippens set about the task of fighting through the phone lines to tell their family and friends. Sherry Grippen found out her son was alive shortly after 9 p.m.

"That was a lot of time to wait," she said.

The bodies are still be counted. Larry Grippen doesn't know yet if there is anyone he knows under the rubble.

He's already back at work. He got the day after the attack off but was back the next morning in a temporary office. Everyone is on edge, he said.

"There's definitely a heightened sense of readiness. The military is doing everything it can."

Like the rest of the country, Grippen is just trying to come to terms with the enormity of events.

"My faith in God has really sustained me through this incident and just trust in him. He was definitely watching out for me. I can be thankful for that."

Sherry Grippen wants people, especially teenagers, to know how close her family came to tragedy. She heard that some young people had already begun cracking jokes about the incident.

She knows, to some extent, that's a defense mechanism for adolescents. However, she also knows that it's easy to make light of a situation when it seems so abstract and far away.

"I want kids to know that my son went to high school in Dallas and did the same things they do. This is nothing something that happened 'over there.' This is something that happened to all of us."

Lt. Cmdr. Grippen had some advice for people who want to help in the crisis.

"Stand behind our president and other government leaders in any decision they need to make.



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