Sharing a few tokens of reflection


Devora Pontell doesn't mind if you ask about the items that dangle from chains around her neck. She wants you to know that someone is sitting next to you who felt the Sept. 11 attacks to her very core, that it shook her in ways she never could have fathomed.

She wants to make it more real to you. She doesn't want you to forget.

She won't.

On Sept. 10, the newlywed Pontells - Devora and Darin, her husband of less than six months - spent much of the day together. An intelligence officer in the Navy, Darin H. Pontell was working overnight shifts at the Pentagon. Devora, a lawyer who had just finished a clerkship, was taking time off while she looked for the right job - and spending time with the husband she didn't see very often.

Before she went to bed that night, they spoke by telephone of nothing in particular. He went back to work. She went to sleep. "I said, 'I'll see you in the morning,'" she recalled recently, sitting in her Howard County town house.

This, of course, is not a story with a happy ending. On Sept. 11, Devora Pontell lost her husband in the terror attacks.

Her phone kept ringing that morning: first her mother in Columbia with news of the World Trade Center attacks, then someone else who heard that a "bomb" had hit the Pentagon. The bomb became a plane, and Devora's worry grew. Darin never called.

It was a week before the body of her husband, a 1998 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who had just turned 26, would be identified. They buried him at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation cemetery in Reisterstown, alongside his older brother Steven, another military casualty who was in his 20s.

The Pontells met when she was Devora Wolk and they were sixth-graders at Clarksville Middle School. They graduated together as part of Atholton High School's Class of 1993. They were friends, never sweethearts.

They kept in touch, mostly by e-mail, while he was at the academy and she was at Rutgers University in New Jersey. When she moved to attend the University of Maryland School of Law, they began dating.

She never pictured herself a Navy wife. It was no life for a lawyer, she figured. She would need someone whose career was more grounded, and he would need someone more portable.

"Then it got serious. You can't help who you fall in love with," she said.

He was proud of his life in the military, of the noble work of protecting his country. She gained a new respect for underpaid, overworked, under-appreciated military men and women - a sentiment that has only grown in the past year.

That didn't mean she wasn't worried for the six months he was deployed on the USS Eisenhower. But he soon returned, and they were married March 18, 2001 - 18 being a lucky number that means life in the Jewish tradition - in a ceremony that encompassed Jewish and military traditions. And she didn't have a sleepless night with him nearby and safe at the Pentagon.

Their calendar last year had been filled with weddings. This year, though, Devora didn't have the first anniversary she had dreamed of, the one many of her friends celebrated with their new spouses.

"Some days are harder than others," she said, "but they're all hard."

The 26-year-old widow does what she can to keep her husband's memory alive. She carries around his name in her new job as a Howard County prosecutor. She wears a dog tag that matches the one he was buried with. She has his Naval Academy ring, returned to her in May, on a chain around her neck.

She wants you to know that you may be closer than you thought to those who died, that someone down the street may have lost someone. To many, the events of Sept. 11 seem distant.

"The Pentagon was attacked; this wasn't just an attack on the World Trade Center in New York," she said. "People here lost their lives. It didn't just happen in New York."

There's so much talk about Sept. 11 heroes, she said, but it usually refers to the firefighters and rescue workers who were going into the twin towers as others were racing out.

"I think the people at the Pentagon serving their country - they were heroes, too."

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