Firefighter's Son Remembers 9/11 And Sandy
On this day 12 years ago, Army veteran Patrick Dowdell lost his firefighter dad.
Lieutenant Kevin Dowdell was killed when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
Kevin Dowdell’s body was never found, though Patrick did recover his father’s engraved firefighter’s tool known as a halligan.
Patrick will remember his dad at the World Trade Center site today, although he says he and his family, “think about our father and we think about 9/11 everyday.”
Today Patrick will also think back to how he nearly lost the halligan when his home in Breezy Point, N.Y., was flooded by Superstorm Sandy.
Breezy Point is where many of the families of 9/11 victims live, and where about 150 homes burned down in the wake of the massive storm.
Even though Patrick saved his father’s halligan from the floodwaters, he lost other mementos from his father.
“The reason it’s hard is that you want to be able to pass those things down the line,” he said.
But despite the loss of his dad on 9/11 and the destruction of his neighborhood by the storm, Patrick remains optimistic.
“We know how to bounce back,” he said. “We’ve kind of learned, unfortunately, from these different events, how to deal, how to cope and how to move on.”
- Patrick Dowdell, son of New York City firefighter Lt. Kevin Dowdell, who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
This is HERE AND NOW.
This morning in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a moment of silence followed by the names of the 40 people who died 12 years ago today on United Flight 93.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nicole Carol Miller.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Louis J. Nacke II.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Donald Arthur Peterson.
CHAKRABARTI: Yesterday, workers in Pennsylvania broke ground on the Flight 93 National Memorial, which will tell the story of the flight and the passengers and crew who stormed the plane's cockpit in an attempt to take control of the plane. It eventually crashed into a field in Shanksville, killing everyone on board.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
The names of the people who were killed at ground zero in New York were also read today. Lt. Kevin Dowdell's name was read. He was a firefighter killed when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Army veteran Patrick Dowdell was there to remember his father, and some of the mementos of his father that were lost when Patrick's home in Breezy Point, Queens, was flooded during Superstorm Sandy last year.
A lot of the families of 9/11 victims live in Breezy Point where about 150 homes burned down during Sandy. I spoke earlier with Patrick Dowdell and asked him first if the anniversary of 9/11 is any easier for him to handle 12 years on.
PATRICK DOWDELL: You know, I don't know if it necessarily gets any easier, but, you know, the date itself is important. But, you know, in reality, we think about my father and we think about 9/11 every day. You know, so the date itself, you know, as much as it has its meaning, for us as a family, you know, every day we think about him and we remember. And we kind of live our lives that way.
HOBSON: Now, of course, this last year has been particularly difficult because of Hurricane Sandy last October, and you live in Breezy Point. Your home was flooded. You lost some of the mementos that you had of your dad. Tell us what you lost.
DOWDELL: Well, you know, we had a lot of this different - over the years, we had collected some different memorabilia. We've been given, you know, a plaque here or a little statue there. You know, specifically, we had a liner that was in the coffin that we used for my father's funeral which had some stitching that just had this, you know, obviously the dates and the fire department symbol and his name. And, you know, it was just all flooded out. So the waters came up and just kind of wiped a bunch of it away. And anything that was still down there was destroyed.
HOBSON: Must have been very difficult.
DOWDELL: Yeah, you know, the reason it's hard is because you want to be able to pass those things down the line. You want to be able to, you know, I want my children and my brother's children someday and our grandchildren, everyone down the line, to have these things to kind of tell the story and to help, you know, visualize for them who their grandfather or great grandfather or, you know, whoever it'll be to them. So they'll know and they'll remember his sacrifice and everything that he did.
HOBSON: And, of course, we all know that the firefighter community, especially in New York City, are a very tight-knit group. We understand that some of your dad's fellow firefighters were there for you after Sandy struck.
DOWDELL: Yeah, absolutely. They came straight to the house and said, you know, what can we do? What can we do to help? So the cleanup and the initial, you know, kind of sorting through everything, it started the day after the storm, and it didn't stop. You know, it hasn't stopped. I still get checked in on, and guys are still helping whatever they can, and it's really because of that family, that brotherhood that the fire department is known for.
HOBSON: Going through these two very traumatic events, is there any similarity for you as you went through Hurricane Sandy compared to - did it bring back memories of 9/11?
DOWDELL: Well, you know, it didn't necessarily bring back memories. You know, the events themselves are very different.
DOWDELL: I think the main thing that I took away from both events is just how my family in particular and my community in particular handled the events and the aftermath. So, you know, where a lot of people, you know, may have just not known what to do, the community itself and also - and more specifically my family said, OK. You know, after both events, we understand what happened. You know, we are upset about the loss. But at the same time, what do we need to do to start moving forward?
You know, what do we need to start cleaning up? What do we need to start - you know, all the different things that come along after these events and kind of take it in stride, pull up our boots and, you know, get on living and everything that has to be done. So I was just really impressed with both my family, both the community, the fire department, you know, all the different things that kind of where we see a parallel between the two events that they always now just - we know how to bounce back. We've kind of learned unfortunately, you know, for these different events, we've learned how to deal, how to cope and how to move on.
HOBSON: How is Breezy Point doing now? This is, of course, an area where a lot of families of 9/11 victims live but also where about 150 homes burned down during Sandy.
DOWDELL: The community is - it's rebuilding. You know, we're not there yet. You know, there's a myriad of different reasons why it's not 100 percent. But as a community, you can definitely see progress. And it's really, really good to see progress, you know, another similarity, right? So after 9/11 when you saw ground zero and you saw that area, it was like, how was it ever going to look the same? How is it ever going to be cleaned up?
And, you know, you could say the same about Breezy after the storm. You know, you see all the devastation. You see houses swept away, all these houses burned down. And, you know, like, how is it ever going to look the same? And then once you see it over the - next couple of months, you see it starting to progress forward and say, OK, we can get it back to where it was, and it'll be even better than it was before.
HOBSON: Do you ever go down to the World Trade Center site?
DOWDELL: Yes, yeah. We - I go down from time to time, and I'll be there today with the FDNY, the New York City Fire Department's bagpipe band. We'll be playing down there. We do it every year. It's kind of - it's our thing where we go down and we kind of commemorate. We share stories. It's a good time to bring everyone together. We've, over the years, learned to take this negative situation and kind of turn it into a positive.
You know, the time has passed, so we're all able to kind of talk about it a little bit now. So we go down to the site. It's just like a central meeting place where everyone can remember, share their stories, and, you know, we play some bagpipe music. And it's kind of a joyous occasion to celebrate the lives of those that were lost.
HOBSON: What would be your message to Americans who are listening to this on this 12th anniversary of 9/11?
DOWDELL: You know, it's tough. You know, a lot of times you think, you know, someone might be so removed, you know, and as time passes, we sometimes start to forget. We - you know, it becomes kind of old news. But for us and for my family in particular, you know, it's still very fresh in our memory. You know, the things that brought 9/11 upon us are still very real. They're part of our everyday lives unfortunately.
So, you know, overall, it's, you know, first off, we want to learn from 9/11 and, you know, kind of better protect ourselves and make sure that we're prepared for anything that might happen in the future. And then - so we prepare for the future and we remember the past. So we remember the lives of the people, and we pass on their lessons and their stories and then hopefully keep their memories alive, you know, as our kids grow older and start to learn about that day and what happened.
HOBSON: Patrick Dowdell is the son of New York firefighter Lt. Kevin Dowdell, who was killed in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Patrick, thanks so much for joining us.
DOWDELL: My pleasure. Thank you very much.
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HOBSON: Bagpipes from ground zero today, the 12th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
CHAKRABARTI: I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.