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Local residents react to al-Qaida leader's death

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Local residents react to al-Qaida leader's death
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

The news of the killing of Osama bin Laden Sunday by Navy SEALS stirred memories for Bemidji's Pearl Harbor veteran.

Bruce Atwater recalled seeing the footage of New York's Twin Towers collapsing after they were hit by planes flown by the al-Qaida suicide pilots. He also remembers watching the Japanese Zeros flying into Pearl Harbor the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. The attack brought the United States into World War II.


"You get a flashback, you betcha," Atwater said Monday. "The last time I saw that happen was when the torpedoes were hitting the (USS) Oklahoma. It turned over before my eyes."

He also expressed admiration for the daring of the SEALS who slid down ropes from Blackhawk helicopters into bin Laden's fortified compound. Bin Laden and others there were killed in the fire fight. There were no casualties among the two dozen SEALS.

"The operation had to be well planned, and the fellows who pulled it off put their lives on the line," Atwater said. "It was brilliantly done. It was something to cheer about."

Gordon Oberg, another World War II veteran, said he doubted if bin Laden's death would make a big difference in the long run.

"I should think his absence would make things easier, but there's others (al-Qaida) ready to step in," Oberg said.

Atwater agreed, saying, "In the short term, yes, but in the long run probably not."

However, he said, the success of the operation taking out the top terrorist gives the United States prestige and a propaganda tool.

Jack Downing, professor emeritus of psychology at Bemidji State University, spent weeks following the destruction of the Twin Towers counseling the workers involved the recovery efforts. He said his most vivid memories are of the dump trucks pouring out rubble and the sniffing dogs searching for remains of the victims. However, he said, the killing of bin Laden is not connected for him to his work as a volunteer counselor for the American Red Cross.

"I don't want to get into the political end of it because that's not what I do," Downing said. "Disaster and mental health, that's what they do, deal with traumas."

Those traumatized be deaths of family members were the first to come to Vietnam veteran Vince Beyl's mind when he heard that bin Laden had been killed.

"Hopefully, this is some relief of their grief, and they can move on," he said.

He said the United States was caught unprepared by the attacks. The various branches of intelligence and security weren't working together. The operation at bin Laden's compound show egos put aside for success.

"That's how it's supposed to go down," Beyl said.

He said taking time and being patient to a desired end is also an important lesson.

The family of a Minnesotan hailed as one of the heroes of Sept. 11 is praising the American force that killed Osama bin Laden.

Beverly Burnett said killing bin Laden is a step toward justice, but the United States still needs to find all the people responsible for the attacks and bring them to justice.

Her son, Tom Burnett Jr., helped lead the passenger revolt against al-Qaida hijackers on Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. The 38-year-old grew up in Bloomington and graduated from Jefferson High School.

Beverly Burnett, who now lives in Northfield, Minn., said she and her husband, Tom Burnett Sr., hope to go to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11. They're still waiting to hear if they'll get permission to go.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.