Remembering the Heroes

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Kathy Dillaber Shares Her Story

On our way to the Butterfly Garden, we stopped at the flower shop located on the Concourse of the Pentagon. Kathy Dillaber, a Department of Army civilian working in the Pentagon, purchased a single pink carnation, as she explained to me the difference in security since 9.11.01. “The escalators you came in on used to go straight down to the Metro. Now it’s been blocked off.  The concourse is only for Pentagon employees and security has increased notably.”

We made our way out to the five-acre courtyard of the Pentagon as she said with a tear in her eye, “The main thing I want people to know is that I had a great sister. This is her story not mine.” At that moment, she stopped in front of a small garden of pink and red flowers and two small green shrubs adorned with tiny purple flowers that she later explained are actual “Butterfly Bushes.” She kneeled and placed the single pink carnation on a small, stone plaque donated by the staff, family members and children of the Pentagon Day Care Center. The plaque, decorated with a mosaic of flowers and a feather butterfly resting on top, read:

“They are not gone who live in the hearts of others. Shelley Marshall and Patty Mickley. September 11, 2001.”

 Patty Mickley, 41-year old Department of Defense civilian also working in the Pentagon at the time, was Kathy’s baby sister and pink was her favorite color. Patty’s daughter, Marie, had just graduated from the daycare center at the Pentagon one week before September 11, 2001. On September 10, 2001 Patty had gone to her daughter’s new school for parent night. Excited to tell her big sister all about it, Patty and Kathy met in the courtyard the morning of September 11, 2001. Patty was wearing a red dress and looked beautiful, as Kathy remembered. It was a gorgeous morning, but both of them had heard the news about the World Trade Center. Feeling uneasy, the last thing Kathy said to her sister is, “…Remember to keep your purse with you today. You never know where you’ll be if they ask us to leave the building.”

Kathy returned to her office in Corridors 5 & 6 and Patty returned to her office in Corridors 3 & 4. Minutes later, Corridors 3 & 4 were hit by American Airlines Flight 77. Kathy had just left her desk to deliver a form when she was knocked to the ground by the impact. Debris was flying in her face. When she got up, she attempted to get her purse, which she had forgotten at her desk.  However, she was halted and directed out of the building. She started looking for her sister.

Kathy was looking for that red dress and asking others to look for it as well, and tell her sister that she had gotten out ok. Eight days later, Kathy got word that Patty had been identified as one of the victims.

Our tour continued with a walk down a hall of quilts, past the Pentagon Memorial model and the Crystal Pentagon Sculpture etched with all of the victims’ names (Patty’s was right in the center), and into the Chapel built at the impact point following 9.11.01. As we entered, Kathy said that although she visits the Chapel quite frequently to say her prayers and be with her sister, there was a time she didn’t want to go in because of the bad memories. Now, she proudly points out her piece of the stained glass window that she placed for her organization. “The survivors were permitted to help place the individual pieces in the stained glass windows designed in honor of those who passed. There is a window for each DoD organization affected, even American Airlines as they became the adopted members of the family. It was quite generous of them to let us be involved in that way and it meant a great deal to all of us,” stated Kathy.

We then entered the room of the America’s Heroes Memorial, which will open for public tours for the first time Saturday, September 10, 2005. In the center lies a book, and on every page the picture and story of those lost. Kathy turned to her sister’s page and said, “I don’t know what happened that day… why I got out and she didn’t. But I know that God has a reason - just have to figure it out.”

In addition to the Butterfly Garden and the other memorials to Patty and other victims, students at Garfield High School - where Patty, Kathy and their brother John attended - planted a tree and placed a plaque in Patty’s honor. Patty was a wonderful daughter, sister, aunt, wife and especially mother. She had a smile that lit up the room. She was the soccer mom. She sold Girl Scout cookies. She was the type of person to make lifelong friends with strangers on the Metro. She spent her lunchtime at the daycare center to be with her daughter. She hosted all family dinners at her house and spent a great deal of time with her elderly parents. The people who died at the Pentagon and on Flight 77 that day were men and women planning their retirement parties, sending their children off to college, husbands and wives going off to work together, men and women working for their country. Patty was among them, sending her daughter off to school for the first time, leaving behind her husband, two sisters, brother and parents.

It was especially hard for Kathy to return to work, but as she recalls, the first year she was so busy trying to rebuild and restore what was lost she had little time to focus on healing. Eventually she found herself attending a Pentagon Memorial Fund meeting and finally found a way to channel her desire to honor Patty and all of her coworkers. “All of the family members, members of the design team, builders, committee members, etc. are dedicated to honor this group of innocent people and make sure the memories and legacies of our loved ones are not forgotten. “I will be at Arlington Cemetery with family on September 11, 2005, so when you attend the events in observance of 9.11.01, tell them that you met Patty Mickley’s sister. Tell them how much we loved Patty and the impact she had on so many people,” she asked me to promise in closing.

Kathy has organized two fundraisers in honor of Patty, collectively raising $11,000 for the Fund. She reminds us that one person can make a difference and every little bit counts. “Live every day in honor of our loved ones, 9.11.01.”

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