Patricia Elizabeth Mickley – Air Force Spouse & Government Employee




On September 11, 2001, a victim of the attack on The Pentagon where she worked. She is survived by her husband, Joseph R. Mickley; daughter, Marie Jacqueline Mickley; parents, Philip and Jacqueline Dillaber; sisters, Anne Youngblood and Katherine Dillaber; brother, John Dillaber; nieces and nephews, Jennifer Colleen, and Andrew Papadopoulos. The family will receive friends Friday, October 12, from 2 to 4 and 6 to 9 p.m. at DEMAINE FUNERAL HOME, 5308 Backlick Rd., in Springfield. A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered on Saturday, October 13, at 11 a.m. at Church of the Nativity, 6400 Nativity Lane in Burke, Virginia.

Interment will follow at 2 p.m. at Arlington National Cemetery, section 64 overlooking The Pentagon.

Friends and associates are encouraged to attend a buffet luncheon following the interment at the Springfield Hilton, 6550 Loisdale Rd., in Springfield. In lieu of flowers the family request contributions be made to the Church of the Nativity or to Sangster Elementary School, 7420 Reservation Dr., Springfield, VA 22153.

Patricia E. (Patti) Mickley

Attack Location: Pentagon
Age: Not Available
Home: Springfield, Virginia
Patricia E. (Patti) Mickley worked for the Defense Department.

After a Death, a New Way of Life
Courtesy of the Washington Post, 28 October 2001

Once, they only waved hello. They were busy neighbors on a landscaped cul-de-sac in West Springfield — not exactly strangers, not quite friends. Now, as the larger world has changed in unexpected ways, so, too, has the smaller one.

Their lives are closer and bound.

Then again, the toll of terrorism takes no imagining in South Run Forest, where Joe Mickley lost a wife in the Pentagon attack and 326 other families lost a neighbor. The grief that started in one house, with a husband and a child, has been taken on by a
community and, in some ways, has transformed it during the last six weeks.

“The neighborhood seems smaller now,” said resident Chris Muenster. “There are people I wouldn't have known if I had met them in the Giant. Now I know their phone numbers by heart.”

What happened in this pleasant, quintessential subdivision — with its winding streets of spacious tract houses and pumpkins on front porches — has taken hold in communities across the country as the realities of death and war and now anthrax have reordered American lives.

“There has been an enormous return to community, in every conceivable way,” said Amitai Etzioni, a professor at George Washington University who has written about social cohesion in America. “People simply need to be with other people more.”

This may be as vivid as anywherein Springfield, West Springfield and Burke, bedroom communities just outside the Capital Beltway with a large presence of military, government and Pentagon families.

Here, a soccer coach was killed. A catechism teacher. The father of a high school freshman. The husband of an expectant mother. The mother of a bride-to-be. In all, 16 people are gone in an area of 28 square miles, among the greatest concentrations of loss in a region with victims across the landscape.

The anguish here has swept across a small map of solidly middle-class subdivisions with names like Daventry and South Run Forest, places without a main street or a mayor but where people have a new appreciation for the invisible web of relationships
that underlie the rhythms of ordinary life. Even six weeks later, the sense of community continues to evolve.

The shared need for connectedness may be particularly strong here because the area — about 12 miles southwest of the Pentagon with good schools and relatively affordable housing — has long attracted a military workforce.

Here, many people know someone who was hurt in the Pentagon attack or has in some way been touched by it — a narrow escape, a colleague's death, a daily commute to the ravaged building. They have seen spouses and neighbors work late nights for war duty. Here, it has been more than a national horror. It is personal.

In South Run Forest, Karen Felschow counts eight families with military ties among the 10 houses nearest to her own. All have become part of the collective effort to comfort.

“By the grace of God,” Felschow said, “it could have been any of us going through this.”

Ties That Bind

In Springfield and Burke, as in so many places across the country, the signs of community connectedness — small and large — have surfaced with little forethought. It is as if people were so driven by instinct that the action preceded the idea of it.

When the Springfield Wolverines youth football team met for its first practice after the attack, the 75-pound players gathered in a circle with lighted candles and bowed heads.

As the tribute Sept. 14 ended, Mirella Sanford, the team mom, looked across the field and felt tears well all over again. “There was another team, and they had their candles out, and there was another team down on one knee, and they had their moment of silence,” she said. “No one had asked anyone to do this. It was everybody feeling the same thing.”

Not far away, on another children's playing field, the heartache was closer to home. Here, the players were mostly first-grade girls, and the attack had claimed their coach — Bob Elseth, a patient, fun-loving Navy lieutenant commander and reservist.

Two other fathers immediately stepped up to fill in. The soccer league spread the word about a fund for the coach's young daughter. And in their own tribute, the Leprechauns huddled on the field Oct. 6 and shouted to the heavens: “Coach Bob is our coach!”

From churches, there were meals and prayers and handwritten notes that went out to the grieving. In one case, for Army Lt. Col Brian Birdwell, a member of Immanuel Bible Church who was in critical condition for weeks, the outpouring filled six mail bins — and included a delivery of John Wayne movies.

At Springfield United Methodist Church, the helpfulness extended from the grieving to the FBI, immersed in its intensive terrorism investigation. Organizers are collecting snacks and meals for agents working late hours and weekends.

Children, too, made their mark, with a car wash and a wave of spontaneous lemonade stands and patriotic drawings for the Pentagon.

In South Run Forest, where Patty and Joe Mickley lived, this web of connections reached from friends to strangers, extending to their churches and schools and showing, in a way that few had seen as clearly, the human possibilities of a community involved and allied.

Three years ago, the Mickleys bought a handsome colonial with a sod lawn and a two-car garage in South Run Forest. They were a family of three — Joe, Patty and their little Marie — and, like so many residents, had a link to the Pentagon. Both Joe and Patty worked as civilians for the Department of Defense.

Soon after they arrived, the Mickleys became acquainted with neighbors, and that grew when Joe Mickley volunteered with the homeowners board. Still, like many families, they had full lives: jobs and church and a young child. It was very easy not to know families the next street over.

But after Sept. 11, word slowly circulated that Patty Mickley, 41 — the friendly, light-haired woman who taught catechism at Church of the Nativity — had been killed at the Pentagon office. The anonymities of suburban life faded away.

A Wide Response

It started with home-cooked meals, prepared by their nearest neighbors. One day it was Ellen Price, next door, who showed up with tuna casserole. Another day it was Margie Botelho, three doors down on the other side of the Mickley house, who brought a pasta dish.

In a matter of days, the circle widened.

With the help of the homeowners association, fliers went out asking for donations. They began: “We were extremely sad to learn that Patricia Mickley, a member of our community, is missing at the Pentagon. We as a community would like to reach out to the family.”

Organizers were unprepared for what followed.

“We had kids giving their birthday money, their baby-sitting money,” said resident Tish Wirth. “We had one person who gave $600, and we figured it must have been his tax refund. The checks just kept coming.” Even the mailman donated.

Wirth was drawn deeply into the effort.

A lawyer and nurse by education, she opted several years ago to be a stay-at-home mom. She had more flexibility than some neighbors and a knack for getting things done. It was often Wirth who organized neighborhood events, like the Halloween parade and the Christmas party. She was secretary of the homeowners association.

She did not know the Mickleys — had never met Patty or Joe. But the crisis felt close to home. Her husband had just retired from the Pentagon. And he was supposed to be there Sept. 11 but changed his mind 15 minutes before the attack.

Wirth swung into action — organizing donations and volunteers and giving the Mickleys a list of coordinators on a page titled: “Please let us help!!”

On Sept. 23, a designated neighbor arrived with a first wave of presents, which included gift certificates and money totaling $2,500, the first of several such contributions.

That night, the Mickleys began to fathom what was happening in their neighborhood.

Carlye Nelson, 13, an eighth-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School, organized a candlelight vigil in the subdivision.

She did this after trying to think of something that she could do to help the Pentagon victims. Her first thought was donating blood. But her mother said she was too young. Then Carlye found out that a neighbor was missing — and that she had a young daughter.

Carlye, who plays soccer and basketball but had no experience with public events, decided on the vigil.

Shortly after 7 p.m., Carlye stood atop a big Army-green utility box, supported by her friends Annie Kim, 12, Stephanie Clark, 12, Renee Maton, 12, and Brittany Felschow, 12. “They can bomb our buildings and crash our planes and take innocent lives,” she told neighbors, “but they can't destroy the American spirit.”

Three hundred people with candles filled the cul-de-sac on a Sunday night.

With his daughter on his shoulders, Joe Mickley caught sight of the assembled mourners as he walked up over a rise in the road. His neighborhood became visible to him all at once — the community so large and involved, perfectly luminous.

“This is all for your mommy,” a cousin told Marie.

Loudly, with purpose, the neighbors sang “God Bless America” and “The  Star-Spangled Banner” and “America” at the spot where, as it turned out, the first houses in the subdivision were built 16 years earlier.

“It was overwhelming,” Joe Mickley said recently, recalling the spirit that night, which, he then found, was just taking form.

A Chance to Share

In the weeks that followed, several neighbors — Ellen Price, Chris Muenster and Penny Wright — became emissaries for donors, making quiet deliveries to the Mickley house so the family would not have to contend with a continuous knocking of well-meaning visitors.

Then, one cool September day, Joe Mickley looked in his daughter's closet before school, only to realize that his daughter had no fall clothes that fit. He felt another shock of grief as he imagined that his wife must have been planning to shop for school clothes.

Mickley mentioned the moment in passing to his neighbor.

The neighbor told another, who told others, who told still others.

Within days, clothes were delivered in boxes and bags, nice hand-me-downs from older neighborhood children and brand-new outfits, coordinated all the way down to the socks. The gifts came unsigned, with the hope that this would make thank-you
notes unnecessary.

“I think it has helped everyone to be able to help,” said neighbor Chris Muenster. “It works both ways. This has changed everyone here for the better.”

Another morning, Joe Mickley sent cookies from his neighbors to school with his daughter.

At school, Mickley would soon learn, Marie took tremendous pleasure in giving the treats to her Sangster Elementary classmates. It was helping her open up and make friends, at the most difficult time of her life.

When neighbors heard, they baked more.

So did the Sangster PTA.

“Every cookie was a little mission of mercy,” Mickley said, “and our neighbors did that for us, and the school did that for us.

“How do you put a value on something like that, something that helps your child minimize her grief?”

Shari Bachinsky, a Sangster parent who has organized family meals, said the school community has been so eager to help that parents have signed up to provide meals all the way to April. They want to do more. “People say, ‘We don't want to wait until April. Can I make something for them now? Can't we cook twice a week for them?' ”

Sick Leave and Memories

As time has gone on, the simple gifts have multiplied.

Neighbor Chuck Kyle took it upon himself to do legal research on whether Mickley, a federal employee, could acquire his wife's accumulated sick leave of 450 hours, which he would surely need, Kyle thought, as a single parent.

The answer, Kyle found out, was no.

So Kyle wrote letters to elected leaders to get the regulations changed.

Then there was Giuliana Canan, a neighbor three streets away, who did not know the Mickleys but who had the idea that she could put together a scrapbook of Patty's photographs for her daughter. “I wanted to do more than cook a meal,” she said.

Within days, Canan and Mickley met. She walked out of his home with 700 photos of Patty's life — and a deadline four days later, the evening before Patty's wake. Canan called in her sister and two friends.

The four women pored over the pictures 16 hours the first day, and then two women returned to the work for two more days, producing three large photo boards for Patty's wake and an elaborate photo and memory album. As they worked, they broke down and cried.

They arranged photos of her wedding reception. Her baby's birth. An office awards ceremony. Her daughter's ballet performance.

On a last page, they placed a note Patty wrote at Back to School Night, hours before she was killed. “I liked sitting in your chair,” it said. “I am so proud of my big girl! Love, Mommy.”

Canan had a hard time believing she had not met Patty Mickley — living in the same neighborhood, going to the same church, with children at the same school. “If Patty were still alive, I feel our paths would have crossed,” she said.

At Patty's wake Oct. 12 and funeral Oct. 13, neighbors were there, including Tish Wirth. Karen Felschow. Chris Muenster, Ellen Price and Margie Botelho. None of them knew Patty Mickley deeply, or in some cases at all. But her death hurt them. It had become a personal loss.

The day of the funeral, Fairfax County police — unbidden — closed Interstate 395 as a remarkably long procession of cars followed Patty Mickley to her burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

“A major thoroughfare in a major city in the United States,” said Joe Mickley, awed by the gesture.

That day, as traffic came to a halt on entrance ramps, stalled motorists got out of their cars and looked upon the funeral. One by one, they faced the procession, standing still with respect, hands placed over their hearts.

NOTE: Mrs. Mickley was laid to rest in Section 64 of Arlington National Cemetery, in the shadows of the Pentagon.


Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment