Deborah A. Ramsaur
Attack Location: Pentagon
On most Saturdays, Deborah A. Ramsaur, of Annandale, spent the day taking her two young children to soccer games and swimming lessons.
But this weekend, Ramsaur's husband, John, took Ann, 7, and Brian, 5, to an international children's festival — alone.
Their mother, Debbie, 45, was one of the victims unaccounted for after the attack at the Pentagon. She had worked there as a civilian secretary for the Army for about a year, though she had been with for the Army for 14 years.
“She loved the job,” John Ramsaur, 58, said. “She loved the Army.”
The Ramsaurs met in Frankfurt, Germany, where they both worked for the Department of Defense. They were married for eight years and returned to the United States in 1999.
Outside her job, the Rochester, New York, native devoted most of her time to her children and her community. She wrote and typed the newsletter for the PTA at Belvedere Elementary School in Falls Church, and served as the secretary of her
Sleepy Hollow Woods community.
Most of all, she doted on her children.
“She was a supermom,” John said. “She was a great mom. She liked going to the park, taking them to soccer games and swimming lessons. She was outgoing, organized and hardworking.”
He went on the Internet to find ways to help his children cope with bereavement. He decided to “deal straight with them” and not hide anything. He said the school provided counselors and some of his daughter's classmates wrote letters of
“We'll make it. They're great. Kids are really resilient. . . . They're sad some of the time. They want to do things. Then they stop and think about it and they're sad.”
— Yolanda Woodlee
By Denise M. Champagne, staff writer
Courtesy of The Fairport-ER Post
August 19, 2009
Fairport, New York — She worked with military brass and politicians in the United States and abroad, but not many in her hometown of Fairport remember Debbie LaRoche Ramsaur, a quiet, unassuming student during her high school days.
Her classmates are working to change that.
Debbie, a 1974 graduate of Fairport High School, was working at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, when terrorists flew a plane into the building. She and her boss, Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude, were among the casualties.
Remembering the day
The September 11 attacks may seem like a distant memory to some, but not to Debbie LaRoche Ramsaur’s brother, Ernie. He recalls it vividly.
“I was at work when the first plane hit,” said LaRoche, of Jacksonville, Florida, referring to American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the first of the Twin Towers in New York City that sunny Tuesday morning nearly eight years ago.
“I thought it was an accident,” he continued. “When the second plane hit, I knew there was something that wasn’t right. When it hit the Pentagon, I immediately called my sister’s cell phone and got dead air. I knew right away.”
LaRoche said he knew his sister was gone because he knew her office was where the airliner struck. He then called his sister’s husband, John Ramsaur, who also worked at the Pentagon.
“He knew right away also,” LaRoche said. “He kind of knew the chances would be very slim.”
LaRoche said ironically, Debbie’s office was moved from the other side of the Pentagon just three weeks earlier, and that she’d still be alive if she’d been on the opposite side of the building.
— Denise M. Champagne
Debbie was the executive secretary to Maude, Deputy Chief of Staff for U.S. Army Civilian Personnel and the highest ranking military officer to die in the Pentagon attack. They’re both interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Debbie being the first Pentagon victim buried there — in Section 64 on September 25, 2001.
Debbie’s brother, Ernie LaRoche of Jacksonville, Florida, attended the ceremony with other family members, including his mother and younger brother — Joyce LaRoche and David LaRoche, both of Greece. Debbie’s husband, John, was there too with their two children, Ann and Brian, then ages 7 and 5, respectively.
“Section 64 is right across the highway from the Pentagon,” said Ernie. “You’re standing in the cemetery and you look over at the Pentagon. All you saw was the gaping hole in the Pentagon and the building all black. You could actually look inside and see the charred desks. It was a very eerie feeling. When they had the first anniversary, the Pentagon looked like nothing had happened to it.”
Debbie’s classmates want to make sure her hometown knows who she was and remembers her. Several ideas are being tossed around to properly honor her memory — the first being finalized is a memorial white concrete bench that will be dedicated Oct. 3 in Potter Park, when Fairport High’s class of 1974 gathers for its 35th reunion.
“Not a lot of people knew Debbie,” said Paul Lucci, a member of the reunion committee who now lives in Penfield. “She was a quiet, unassuming kid.”
Lucci said Debbie was a straight-A student who graduated with an accounting degree from Monroe Community College in 1976 and married his cousin, Leigh Wasenke — a 1972 Fairport grad — after his graduation in 1978 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. They were stationed at various Army posts throughout the nation, including Schoefield Barracks in Hawaii, where Debbie returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Hawaii.
The Wasenkes later divorced, and Debbie met John Ramsaur in Germany, where she was working for Maude, who would rehire her years later at the Pentagon.
During her career, Debbie had regular contact with high-ranking officials in the military and Congress. She was one of the first awarded the Defense of Freedom Medal, created in the weeks following the attacks to honor civilian Department of Defense employees killed or wounded in the line of duty, marking the first time civilians were formally recognized for wounds received in combat. It’s the civilian equivalent to the Purple Heart.
Debbie’s memory was also honored twice in 2002: once by the state of Virginia, where she lived, which passed a bill recognizing her and offering condolences to her family; and then by the Army, which named a suite in her honor at the Civilian Personnel Headquarters in Germany. Debbie was a former member of the U.S. Army, Europe and Seventh Army Civilian Personnel Directorate.
Debbie’s name came up a couple of months ago, when the reunion committee was making plans around a patriotic theme, purposely having the event at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall where donations of non-perishable foods will be accepted for the local food bank, as well as personal hygiene items to be sent to servicemen and women. Donations will also be accepted to help pay for the bench and future memorials, one possibly being a matching bench on the other side of the park to honor all veterans.
Donations to support memorials to recognize and honor Fairport High School graduate Deborah LaRoche Ramsaur may be made to the Debbie Laroche Ramsaur Memorial Fund in care of D. Hebbs, 114 Timberline Drive, Penfield New York Y 14526.
“When I came home, I Googled her name and within an hour, I was just totally fascinated by her story and her awards and recognition and what people thought of her,” said Lucci. “I couldn’t sleep. How we could let this girl fall through the cracks is beyond me. There’s a lot of pride in Fairport. That’s the part that’s so shocking is how there’s a story like this and no one knows about it. Something has to be done here.”
That night, August 10, committee members agreed on the design of the bench and wording for a bronze plaque, which will say: “In honor of your life, your dedication to your family, your friends and to your country. Awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom, Fairport High School Class of 1974.”
Lucci also contacted Mayor Frederick “Fritz” May, who supports the project, and the school. He is working with Principal Chris Salinas and John Davis — chairman of the Wall of Fame Committee — to establish a scholarship in Debbie’s name and get her inducted into the FHS Wall of Fame, hopefully next year.
“There are so many other kids at Fairport who are just like her and they need to know what they can achieve,” Lucci said.
“She was quite a person,” added Davis. “She had quite an accomplished career. I believe Deborah really deserves a special memorial in her name. I’m pursuing that at Fairport High School”
Davis is even looking beyond that. He’s thinking of a special memorial, whether it be another bench at the school or a memorial tree.
“She was a quiet person,” said Davis. “Some quiet kids at the high school need a role model like her. For any student seeking a future in the military, she makes a great role model.”
He said Debbie also was a devoted mother who organized activities for children at her local school and was active in her church.
Ernie, who visits his sister’s grave a couple of times a year, plans to be at the Potter Park dedication with his mother.
“To me, it would be good for my mom to attend something like this,” he said. “All the memorials and things done for my sister have been done at the national level and nothing was done in her hometown.”
He acknowledges his sister, 14 months his senior, was the quiet studious type, but he remembers her mischievous side.
“When I was first born, my sister put iodine on the back of my head and painted a face on it and told my mother the baby was bleeding,” he joked. “It just went downhill from there.
“She was very camera shy. She never liked to be photographed at all but, if you did happen to catch her, she would stick her tongue out at the camera. She always found some kind of fun and levity in whatever she did. Later, she was a great confidant. Her mission in life was to make other people feel good about themselves and what she could do to help them.
“ I think the highlight of her life was when the kids were born. Being a mother older in life, they were two precious gifts that were given to them and she just adored them. They’re doing really well. They just recently came up to visit my mother and spend time with her and she just loves seeing the grandkids.”
Debbie’s daughter Ann, now 15, reminds Ernie of his sister. He said the last time he saw her, about a year ago, she and her father had a typical parent-teen exchange and she shot him a look.
“The look was the exact same expression as my sister,” Ernie said. “It freaked me out. She just had that same expression. It was like a flashback. You really don’t get to choose your family, but if I had a choice, she would have been my sister. She was just a super person. She really was.”
NOTE: Mrs. Ramsaur was laid to rest in Section 64 of Arlington National Cemetery, in the shadows of the Pentagon.
RAMSAUR, DEBORAH ANN
- DATE OF BIRTH: 07/02/1956
- DATE OF DEATH: 09/11/2001
- BURIED AT: SECTION 64 SITE 4766
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
- WIFE OF RAMSAUR, JOHN B
MAJ US ARMY
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard