A recent graduate of Juneau-Douglas High School is among the servicemen sifting through the debris of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon.
Spc. Levi Preston, 20, is part of the honor guard unit, a presidential ceremonial unit, stationed at Fort Meyer, Va., across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., said his mother, Francis Preston of Juneau. He entered basic training in July 1999, she said.
"On the 11th, I was awakened by my sister (calling from Idaho) at 5:30 in the morning," Francis Preston said. "She was worried because Levi had been assigned about three weeks before to work as a tour guide at the Pentagon."
What Levi's aunt didn't know was that the guide position had been suspended.
"When I reached Levi (later on the 11th), he told me he was safe. He said there was a lot of confusion and he was not sure what his assignment would be," Preston said.
She learned on the 12th that his company had been assigned to recovery at the Pentagon.
"What does that mean?" Preston said she asked her son.
"It's a crime scene and we have to work through all the material and put the pieces of the puzzle together," Levi responded, she said.
"Including body pieces?" his mother asked.
"Yes," he said.
On duty at the Pentagon, Preston wears two layers of coveralls and a respirator to shield him from contamination. Because this garb generates considerable heat, shifts are short two to three and a half hours.
Duty at the site is emotionally trying, he said Thursday in a phone interview.
"We find things. I won't be specific. Personally, I haven't found anything I can recognize. But some guys do, and they break down, especially initially," Preston said.
Preston said he is "able to talk about things," talk them through. "And we have people we can talk to if we have problems."
Preston said six infantry companies, with about 150 personnel in each, were assigned last week. That has been reduced to two companies, which rotate, assisting firemen, and helped by the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
Preston had heard Juneau residents were frustrated about how to help and wants them to know he is representing them. "Maybe you can't make sandwiches or give blood, but there are other ways. Maybe we can toss out a couple more smiles."
He recommends taking a particular talent and applying it. "Not everyone can be moving rubble, but, if you're an entertainer, you can entertain. We can be nicer."
Preston met President Bush on Sept. 13 when he toured the Pentagon site. "I mentioned to him that I hoped we would not rush into anything. He assured me, in a couple of words, that he will take his time," he said.
Preston is the only child of Harold and Francis Preston. Harold works as a sergeant at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center. Francis works for the U.S. Forest Service. The family has lived in Juneau for 11 years.
"It's a horrible thing that has happened," Francis Preston said of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "I am very proud of my son and thankful he was able to be there to assist the country."
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