Thursday, September 27, 2001

Training kicked in after Pentagon attack

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dale Rielage does not consider himself a hero for running back into the Pentagon to help others escape the smoke and debris on Sept. 11, then providing medical evaluations amid the chaos.

        Nevertheless, the Navy is considering whether his rescue efforts warrant a commendation.

        “My story is absolutely typical of hundreds of other folks that day,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rielage, a Colerain Township native, said Wednesday via cellular phone, as he walked up the hill leading to the Pentagon.

        “So, a hero? No, absolutely not,” he said. “There were dozens and dozens who tried to do what they could.”

        Lt Cmdr. Rielage, the self-described “quiet kid on the debate team” at St. Xavier High School, class of '87, also is an emergency medical technician.

        The hijacked plane struck the wing in which he works as a staff officer in the Navy's Intelligence Department.

        His mother, Colerain Township Trustee Diana Lynn Rielage, said Wednesday “my heart dropped” when she realized the plane struck so close to his office, but she wasn't surprised by his actions.

        “I would have been more surprised if he didn't go back in,” she said.

        Lt. Cmdr. Rielage was in a staff meeting that morning when he learned the World Trade Center had been attacked.

        “We think a lot about terrorism, and it's by no means unthinkable,” he said. “The Pentagon would be logical, but we didn't think much of it.”

        Shortly after the meeting ended, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into his wing of the Pentagon, killing 189 people.

        When smoke forced the evacuation of his office, Lt. Cmdr. Rielage emerged in the courtyard to see a lone Army medical worker talking by phone with the Pentagon clinic. But a huge, growing column of smoke prevented his view of the damage.

        “I told her I remember triage,” he said. “She started pointing to (people on) the ground. "Urgent ... immediate ... urgent.'

        “And honestly,” he said, “after the first five minutes, there was nobody coming out.”

        So he and several others went back in.

        Lt. Cmdr. Rielage, a 31-year-old Miami University graduate, grabbed a medical bag, but quickly realized its contents (gauze pads, tape, butterfly stitches and scissors) were useless.

        Down an alleyway with debris floating in 6 inches of standing water, he came upon an Army officer trying to hook up a power spray-washer to battle a fire. A door was blown off its hinges. He could hear windows shattering.

        “I remember certain scenes very vividly,” he said, “but it's bothered me somewhat that I don't have a good sense of time. It was a bit of a blur. ... I remember the faces. The ones I remember were very angry. And a lot of determination to do something.”

        Of the approximately eight people he assisted, most suffered smoke inhalation and four were trauma cases, he said: “crushing injuries and burns.”

        He stayed at the Pentagon untilmidnight. He knows none of the names of those he helped, and hasn't seen them since.

        His father, Robert Rielage, is a state fire marshal and former Colerain Township assistant fire chief.

        The Navy officer and his wife, Lisa, have two sons, Robert, 3, and Christopher 2.

        “As horrible as this has been,” he said, his words slowing, “it's shown a lot of what is best in us.”


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