Pentagon Survivor Kathy Dillaber Tells Her 9/11 Story

Thick smoke rises from the Pentagon on 9/11 as emergency responders converge on the scene. A charred hole can be seen where American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the building. The skyline of Washington, D.C. is visible in the background.
An aerial photo of the Pentagon taken after hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the building. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of Robert Walker.

Sisters Kathy Dillaber and Patricia “Patty” Mickley both worked at the Pentagon in nearby corridors just one floor apart. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Kathy and Patty met in one of their frequent catch-up spots, the center court of the Pentagon, where they talked about the hijacked planes that were flown into the Twin Towers, unaware of the events that would soon unfold at the Pentagon. Kathy remembers telling her sister to carry her purse with her that day just in case they were instructed to leave the building.   

After their meeting, Kathy returned to her desk to pick up paperwork when she heard a loud noise—the sound of hijacked Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon. Noticing debris raining down, she quickly fell to the ground and covered her face.

Kathy remembered initially thinking, “I’ve got to find Patty, something isn’t right.” However, before she could search for her sister, Kathy was instructed to evacuate. Making her way out of the building, she reported to others exiting the building that Patty was “a smaller version” of Kathy, and that she was wearing a red dress.

Kathy waited outside of the Pentagon to find her sister, but authorities kept moving evacuees farther away from the building. She noticed from afar that many of her sisters’ coworkers had evacuated and took it as a sign that Patty must have also made it out. Thinking Patty was safe, Kathy went home.

The days that followed were long and frustrating, but Kathy and her family maintained hope that Patty had survived. After several days of waiting for news, Kathy went back to work to avoid taking time off because she was convinced Patty was injured and would need someone to take care of her when she returned. It was at her desk that Kathy received the call from her brother-in-law that Patty had been identified as a victim of the attack on the Pentagon.

Photo of Kathy Dillaber

Kathy describes the days after receiving the news as a long journey for her and her family. On Sept. 11, 2019, Kathy, along with four others, will share her story as a part of this year’s fourth annual Anniversary in the Schools webinar. Register for this free program here.

The webinar is made possible thanks to generous support from The New York Life Foundation.

By Eduardo Quezada, Education Specialist, and Nicole Torres, Education Specialist, 9/11 Memorial Museum

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