A look back in Edmonds: Larry Strickland and terror at the Pentagon

Larry Strickland
Sergeant Major Larry Strickland

The ending of WWI in 1918 held out the hope that it would be the war that would end all wars and lead to peace. On that note, in 1919 Armistice Day was established to be observed annually on the 11th day of November at the 11th hour; to coincide with the ending of the war. Since that time, 95 years ago, the world has instead become much more dangerous. Armistice Day is now known as Veterans Day in the United States—a day we pause to commemorate those who have served our country in the armed forces in times of war and in times of peace.

A special serviceman to remember and honor this Nov. 11, 2014, is Edmonds’ own Larry Strickland. For him, life ended on a totally unexpected battlefield.

Strickland in college.
Strickland in college.

Larry Strickland was born Feb. 14, 1949 in Bellingham. His parents were Lee and Olga Strickland, and he had a younger sister. The family moved to Edmonds. He attended Edmonds schools; graduating from Edmonds High School in 1967. He then attended the University of Washington. The picture of a young Larry Strickland is from the 1968 UW year book Tyee, taken during his freshman year. He attended the university for three years before enlisting in the Army in May of 1972. While in the Army, he completed his Bachelor of Science degree at a New York college.

On a Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, SGM (Sergeant Major) Larry L. Strickland, was busily at work in his office located on the second floor of the West Wing at the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. He was concerned with clearing his desk before his upcoming retirement —  now less than a month away. His retirement would complete his 30-year career in the Army.

Fifty-two year old SGM Strickland served as the senior enlisted advisor to the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Having served in this position since November 1990, he had built up a considerable amount of leave time and was actually scheduled for a day off that Tuesday. However, as his mother affirmed, he was always a dedicated worker. This scheduled day off turned into just another work day for him. He had tasks that needed to be completed, and he was at his desk to do just that.

He could have been home replacing some of the siding on his home in Woodbridge, Virginia—evidently a priority on his list of home chores. Or, he could have been enjoying a day of sitting back and relaxing.

He was looking forward to his fast-approaching retirement, when he could spend more time with his family—his wife, and his grown children and grandson from his first marriage. He was also looking ahead to a time when he would be able to enjoy his hobbies—fishing, hiking,and gourmet cooking — and needlepoint. Strickland was also an accomplished handyman, and had plans to complete other home projects—not just the necessary siding replacement.

After enjoying a bit of personal freedom, Strickland hoped for a possible future position in the private sector. He had no idea that for him there would be no tomorrow—no future. His family would be forced to go on without him.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757-223 aircraft, was flying its regular scheduled morning flight between Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and Los Angeles Airport in California. Less than 35 minutes into the flight, five hijackers broke into the cockpit. After overcoming the flight crew, one of the hijackers took over the controls of the plane. At 9:37 a.m. (EDT), with the hijacker piloting the plane, Flight 77 was deliberately flown into the west side of the Pentagon, causing a tremendous fire. At 10:10 a.m. that part of the building collapsed.

SGM Strickland’s second-floor office in the West Wing suffered a direct hit. It would be several days before his remains were found and identified.

One hundred and eighty-four innocent lives were lost—125 in the Pentagon and 59 passengers on the plane. The ages of those killed in this act of terrorism ranged from 71 to as young as 3 years. Today, a memorial to the 184 victims is located adjacent to the Pentagon.

Larry_Strickland_graveSGM Larry Strickland is buried at Arlington National Cemetery amid the graves of the many others who served their country. A simple upright government-issue gravestone marks his burial place. The letters DSM and PH shown on his grave marker indicate he received the Distinguished Service Medal and a Purple Heart; both posthumously. During his long service in the Army, Strickland had received numerous awards and decorations for his exemplary service, both stateside and overseas.

A month before his untimely death, Strickland made his final trip back to Edmonds, his hometown. He visited with his parents, and even had the chance to go fishing with his father.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

A long-time resident of Lynnwood, Betty Lou Gaeng is a genealogist, historian, researcher and writer who is active in volunteer work for Lynnwood’s Heritage Park Partners Advisory Committee and the Alderwood Manor Heritage Association at Heritage Park. She is also a member of the League of Snohomish County Heritage Organizations (LOSCHO) and the South County Historical Society and Museum.  Gaeng is the author of two books: “Etched in Stone,” which is the history of the Edmonds Museum memorial monument, and “Chirouse” about a Catholic missionary priest who came from France to Washington Territory in 1847 and became a father figure and friend to the Puget Sound area’s Native people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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