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Kirkwood couple takes comfort in bin Laden's death, but 'it will never bring David back'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: "Hooray! And good riddance."

Those were the reactions Monday of Betty Nelson of Kirkwood, after hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden. Her son, David, was among those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

David William Nelson was the eldest son — one of the four children of Betty and Warren Nelson. He was a senior vice president with Carr Futures and was working on the 92nd floor of the North Tower when a plane crashed into it. At the time of the attack, David Nelson, 50, had been on the telephone discussing business with an associate in Saudi Arabia. All 69 of the Carr Futures employees who were on the 92nd floor when the tower was struck were killed.

In an interview Monday, Betty Nelson described what it was like when she heard the news of bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. forces. "I'm glad to see he's gone," she said. "But it will never bring David back."

Betty, 89, and Warren Nelson, 88, have lived in the same home in Kirkwood for 50 years. It was there that they raised David, his older sister Barbara and his younger siblings Marcia and Robert.

In an interview with the Beacon on Friday, the Nelsons had talked about David and about how they were feeling with the approach of the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. At times they each became emotional, but mostly they talked with pride about the son they lost.

David had a wide-ranging career before he got involved in the investment business. A 1969 graduate of Kirkwood High School, he attended Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he first studied international relations and later behavioral sciences. He was active in anti-war protests during the Vietnam era. He graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1973.

After graduation, David went to work for the Social Services Department of the city of Baltimore and for a while worked with battered children. He was shot in the leg while on the job — something he didn't tell his parents until much later.

In 1974, David enrolled in the Calhoun MEBA Engineering School in Baltimore. But within a few months, he changed direction and moved to Boston to study the French horn. He studied first at the New England Conservatory of Music and later at the Boston Conservatory. He later played briefly with the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra and with the Evansville, Ind., Symphony Orchestra, with the role of assistant principal French horn.

In 1980, Warren Nelson recalled, David "came to the realization that the demand for French horn players was far smaller than the supply." That's when the son joined his father's business, Clayton Brokerage Co., a commodities firm. He started out doing research and making daily price charts, before moving on to do price analysis of silver and gold. In 1982 he was hired by Dean Witter Reynolds Inc., and moved to New York to work as a metals analyst. His expertise resulted in him often being quoted in the Wall Street Journal.

David married Elizabeth Crawford on Sept. 8, 1984. The couple had celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary just days before he was killed.

In 1997, Dean Witter was bought out by the stock brokerage firm, Morgan Stanley, which then sold the commodity division — where David worked — to Carr Futures. David continued his work at Carr Futures until Sept. 11, 2001.

Warren Nelson, a World War II veteran, had seen his share of loss during his tour of duty in the Army Air Corps, flying bombing missions over islands in the Central Pacific. He described how he and other young airmen were instructed against developing close friendships because of the likelihood that many would die in combat.

Then came that fateful morning. "We first saw the story on the TV news that a plane had struck the World Trade Center," Warren Nelson wrote in his book recounting his son's life. "Since we knew that David's office was in that building, we were very concerned."

Warren Nelson described having "a brief moment of hope," when, through miscommunication, the family thought that David had escaped death because he was late getting to work. After about an hour, they learned that it was one of David's co-workers who was safe.

"By nightfall, the walls had come tumbling down. We had heard nothing and we all knew that our lives had changed forever." David's body was recovered 48 days later. He had been crushed by a steel beam.

Warren Nelson wrote his book, "Swedish Men Don't Cry," in 2006. The title came from an admonition the father had given the son when he was just a young boy. It was to become sort of a family motto. Warren Nelson said he wanted the book to tell the story of David's life especially for David's children, Ingrid and Frederick, who were 8 and 4, respectively, when their father was killed. Today, the children live with their mother, Elizabeth Crawford, in Charlottesville, Va.

When asked how she had kept from becoming bitter or angry at the world because of what happened to her family, Betty Nelson responded quickly: "What good would that do?"

Instead, she stays active in her church, Trinity Lutheran in Kirkwood. She coordinates volunteers who prepare meals for families at the Ronald McDonald House at St. John's Mercy Medical Center. And she is a leader of her congregation's fellowship group, OWLs — Older Wiser Lutherans.

"It helps me to talk with my friends (about David's death)," she said.

For her grandchildren, Betty Nelson said that most of all, she wants them to know what kind of guy their father was.

"He was devoted to them, and he was good to everybody. He enjoyed music.

"He was so good."

Outreach specialist Linda Lockhart has been telling stories for most of her life. A graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, she has worked at several newspapers around the Midwest, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, as a reporter, copy editor, make-up editor, night city editor, wire editor, Metro Section editor and editorial writer. She served the St. Louis Beacon as analyst for the Public Insight Network, a product of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media that helps connect journalists with news sources. She continues using the PIN to help inform the news content of St. Louis Public Radio. She is a St. Louis native and lives in Kirkwood.