Local 9/11 Widow Reflects 10 Years Later: 'The Days That Followed Are a Blur'
Bloomfield Hills resident recalls shock, flag-waving, memorial park planning and feeling 'so disappointed with our leaders.'
The following essay by a 64-year-old Bloomfield Hills resident marks the first time she has written about the day "my life began to unravel." Her 53-year-old husband, a retired Philip Morris district manager, was flying west to work on a southern California home they owned. They were married 15 years.
By Rosemary Dillard
My 10-year journey begins Sept. 10, 2001, when my husband Eddie took me out to dinner so he could talk about difficult conversations recently with his son living in another state. The next morning, we overslept and rushed from our home in Alexandria, VA, to Washington Dulles International Airport so he could take Flight 77 nonstop to Los Angeles, departing at 8:10 a.m.
We had a fun drive – the day was so beautiful! The sun was shining, it was warm and one of the clearest days I have ever seen. At the airport, I told my husband to hurry home and we kissed.
I arrived at my American Airlines management job at Ronald Regan Airport and went to a meeting. Early in the meeting, we heard screams from the Admirals Club nearby. We went to see what the commotion was and returned to the meeting after seeing a sketchy TV news report. About 15 minutes later, we heard screams again and saw that United Airlines Flight 175 had hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The meeting was adjourned and I walked to my office.
While walking, it felt like something grabbed my stomach. It was such a strange feeling. Back in my office, my alarmed administrative manager soon showed up and said a third plane had hit the Pentagon and had been crewed with the flight attendants our office assigned and supervised.
Then she said it was Flight 77. I grabbed her arm and said: "No, it can't be. Eddie was on Flight 77."
'I just could not understand'
I tried calling a friend in our scheduling department. I just could not understand or believe that a plane had hit the Pentagon, barely a mile from where we were. We had to evacuate and wait on a grassy hill in front of the airport.
My life began to unravel. How could this happen in Virginia and to the Pentagon, one of the safest buildings in the United States? I drove past it on my commute, and soon saw how the fire burned and burned.
The days that followed are a blur. I recall contacting my husband’s family and friends. My sister-in-law was in a meeting with Mayor Scott King of Gary, IN, when I called so she could tell her husband – who was driving and later said he pulled over and jumped out of the car.
Things unraveled daily for our family. The only thing that seemed to matter was that people all over the world voiced disbelief that the United States had been wronged.
Our flag was still there
Now it was time to show unity. Flags were displayed everywhere – on lapels, over expressways, atop offices, in front of homes and on vehicles. So much pride, and later sadness when we learned how government agencies had not shared foreign threat intelligence information with each other.
Groups formed to honor victims murdered at the World Trade Center and Pentagon. When the Army Corps of Engineers invited family members of Pentagon crash victims to work on plans for a memorial, I volunteered. The military arranged for us to meet weekly to establish a fund to build the memorial, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was most helpful.
By 2002, we were on our way to make this a reality. We met weekly for the fund and with the Pentagon for assistance with design and construction of a memorial park.
Living in Virginia, I also had the opportunity to attend many of the Capitol Hill hearings that showed the inefficiency of government departments. I remember so well when former presidential adviser Richard Clark testified that this never should have happened, that he had informed national security adviser Condoleezza Rice about intelligence intercepts involving al-Qaeda threats. I was so disappointed with our leaders.
'We pay attention'
So many problems remain and so many problems were born partly because of 9/11.
We are all like agents for our own safety now. It does not matter where we are, we play like FBI agents. We pay attention to people and packages. We watch our neighbors, we watch while we are shopping and even in church. I think it is a good thing that we are aware of everything going on around us.
I hope that this 10th anniversary observance brings back the inspiration and pride that we as Americans felt in those first days following 9/11.
My husband’s remains are buried in Gary, IN, with his parents, Major and Emma Lois Dillard, and younger brother.
Rosemary Dillard, a former flight attendant base manager at airports serving Washington, DC, is co-chair of the Pentagon Memorial Advisory Committee and board vice president of a support group called the National Air Disaster Alliance Foundation.