Remembering 9/11: Interviewing a daughter a year after she lost her father in the Pentagon attacks

Besides the Challenger—the space shuttle that blew up in 1986 as my 6th grade class watched in horror—September 11th as been the next most devastating—I remember where I was and what I was doing—days I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. There are plenty of horrors in this world, many we can see unfurling in news clip after news clip, but September 11th struck fear in my heart because it was something I never imagined would happen on U.S. soil. Some may think that naive, but that’s how I felt at the time. I personally did not lose anyone on this day 15 years ago, but I knew in some aspects, life as I had known it was forever changed.

On that fateful day, I was still in my twenties living in Los Angeles. My roommate called me to the living room and simply said, “Cija, we’re under attack.” Her words didn’t make sense, until we witnessed the 2nd plane fly into the other World Trade tower, then another into the Pentagon, and finally the downed plane in Shanksville, PA. As the death toll mounted and days passed it became clear that we, as a country, could never be the same.

Fast forward a year later, I had moved back home to Harford County, Maryland in part because of September 11th stirring up feelings of being too distant from family, and  also because my father was in the midst of a health crisis. Less than a year after my return I began working at The Aegis—Harford County’s newspaper, where I had recently been promoted from editorial assistant to staff writer. My first huge story? Interviewing local families who lost a loved one to the 9/11 terror attacks. I was given a name, Willie Troy, a retired staff sergeant  killed at the Pentagon. Was I really going to have to call up a stranger and dredge up their pain on the anniversary of the most horrible day of their life? Yes.  I had no idea where to begin my search. I hoped to find nothing so I wouldn’t have to write the piece, but one of the editors saw through my ploy and provided a link to the 9/11 database. I found both a name and a number.

That family member was Staff Sergeant Troy’s daughter, and to my surprise she was willing to talk to me. My stomach roiled as I dialed her number  from the back steps of my parents’ house on a sunny Saturday in early September. When she answered I closed my eyes, cleared my throat and asked her how she was doing all things considered. Her grief was still raw but she was open to conversation and we talked for at least two hours. That afternoon I asked few questions, I just listened. The best thing I could do for her and her mother was to respect her father’s story and get it right. I would not offer my opinion, nor my interpretation of their story…I would just tell it.

Death at the Pentagon: Family’s wound still fresh [The Aegis, September 11, 2002]

A year has passed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the wound is still fresh for Willie Troy’s family.

Staff Sgt. Troy, 51, had lived in Aberdeen for nine months when he was killed in the Pentagon, where he worked as a program analyst. He was in the section of the building struck by an airliner hijacked by terrorists and one of 125 people to die at the Pentagon.

Born March 20, 1950 in Delco, N.C., Sgt. Troy was the son of Bessie Mae Troy and the late John Troy. He was the husband of Judy Troy, whom he married June 13, 1971, the father of ReNee Troy and the grandfather of Jasmyn Troy.

Sgt. Troy was drafted into the Army at age 19 during the height of the Vietnam War. While in Vietnam, he suffered disabling injuries to his shoulder and feet and partial hearing loss. Sgt. Troy’s daughter said her father believed some of his injuries were caused by exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant used widely in Vietnam.

Sgt. Troy remained in the Army after Vietnam, but was offered early retirement in 1985 because of his health problems. His daughter said Sgt. Troy continued working for the United States government in many overseas assignments, including Germany from 1986-1992, Panama from 1992-1999 and Puerto Rico for a short time until 2000.

In 2000, Sgt. Troy and his wife moved to Aberdeen. He began working in the Soldier Biological Chemical Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He completed college in 2000 by correspondence through Stewart University, majoring in computer science.

Judy Troy has since moved back to North Carolina to be closer to her family.

ReNee Troy, 29, lives in Charlotte, N.C. where she works as a business support manager in the municipal finance department of Bank of America. In a phone interview from her home Saturday, she talked about her memories of her father and the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon.

“We had to wait a week and a half,” she began, referring to the amount of time it took for her father’s remains to be found. “We went there [the Pentagon Family Assistance Center in Crystal City, Va.] with all hope that he was an unidentified person in the hospital.”

Some of Sgt. Troy’s remains were confirmed Sept. 30. That day people from the Aberdeen Police Department and the City of Aberdeen gathered with the Troy’s neighbors to hold a vigil for the family.

ReNee Troy said she was so touched by this show of support. “That whole neighborhood rallied around us; we really appreciated them,” she said.

She described how, after such an exhausting day of being briefed about Sept. 11 and having her father’s death confirmed, she and her mother were so surprised to see all the people who had waited in the cold for at least an hour for their return. “We thought we had missed it, there were so many people standing out there and it was so cold, they didn’t know what was going on, but they stayed for two or three hours. That was awesome!”

“There were some good people in Aberdeen, especially my neighbors,” Judy Troy said Monday, “I will never forget them for that.” She said the city as a whole, especially the mayor and city council, embraced her.

ReNee Troy and her mother spent many days traveling between Aberdeen and northern Virginia, going to the family support center and through the process of receiving a death certificate, deciphering benefit plans and talking to those who remembered Sgt. Troy.

ReNee Troy recounted how people would seek out her and her mother to share stories of their time spent with her father and to tell them “how much they liked my dad.” People described him as being funny and pleasant to be around, she said.

A funeral service for Sgt. Troy was held Oct. 16 in North Carolina. In attendance were Judy Troy’s coworkers from APG, including her commanding general, who flew to North Carolina to be with her.

ReNee Troy told a story her mother told her about a Jehovah’s Witness who knocked on her door in Aberdeen last October. During the visit, Judy Troy and her visitor discussed the Sept. 11 attacks and Sgt. Troy’s death.

The woman said she wondered what happened to a man she often saw mornings on the MARC train. She said she hadn’t seen him in some time and wondered if he was a victim of the attacks. She talked about how pleasant he was and how he was always quick to smile and say hello.

Judy Troy showed her a picture of her husband who turned out to be the mystery man her visitor spoke about. This, ReNee Troy said, “…was one of the best moments” for her and her mother in their process of trying to come to terms with the tragedy that changed their lives.

Her mother, ReNee Troy said, “has her good days and bad days; she’s at the point now where she doesn’t want to go to work every day.” ReNee Troy said her mother is four years from retirement and has contemplated retiring early.

She spoke about how her mother is just trying to adjust to life without her husband. She said her mother still has her father’s cell phone activated and calls it from time to time just to hear his voice. Despite the depths of her sorrow and grief, ReNee Troy said her mother’s attitude and outlook on life remains positive. “She’s doing really well.”

Judy Troy, whose birthday was Monday, said: “My last birthday with him was good. We had a nice dinner…”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever have closure,” she said. “He was my high school sweetheart. We’d been together for 30 years, and we never spent this much time away from each other, even though he was in the military.”

“This year, I celebrated [their 31st wedding anniversary] by myself,” she added.

For ReNee Troy, whose 30th birthday is Sept. 16, “This time of year will never be the same.” She said the attendant media coverage leading to the Sept. 11 anniversary has been difficult for her. As time goes on, it becomes harder and harder for her to accept that her father will no longer be there for her, especially to walk her down the aisle and dance with her at her planned wedding in March 2003 to fiancé Terry Mebane.

“It hits you, you’re never going to see them again,” she said. “On Sept. 12, I had not seen my dad for a month; by October 12, I had not seen him for two months…” her voice trailed off.

“The first of everything where he isn’t there has already passed,” she said. Now she appreciates the time she has with her mother. If her mother telephones, she no longer waits to call back if she’s busy.

In a rush of words, ReNee Troy gave in to her grief, saying emphatically: “To be as young, healthy, and full of life as he was…for him to be dead before I’m 30 is crazy! Maybe if I was 40 it would be different.”

Switching to calmer more reflective demeanor, she said: “I try to be strong and live, what else can you do? God’s blessed you to see another day.” After a pause she said: “He was the biggest clown, comedian; he was really engaging, very smart and everybody was his friend.”

When asked about her fondest memory of her father, at first she responded, “All 28 of the years we spent together,” but then she added that her college graduation was a very special memory.

ReNee Troy said she is happy her 9-year-old daughter Jasmyn was able to spend so much time with her grandfather, but she is sad because her future children will never know him.

She said she believes Jasmyn is “doing better than all of us.” While talking to her daughter one evening about her grandfather, ReNee Troy said her daughter told her, “Pa-Pa’s lucky, he gets to meet the Lord, see Martin Luther King, see his dad and gets to hear Aaliyah sing for free.”

ReNee Troy chuckled at the memory, adding that Jasmyn won second place in a countywide poetry contest, where she submitted a poem about her Pa-Pa.”

ReNee Troy said she tries to have a positive outlook on life, although she is not happy with the media coverage the Pentagon attacks received.

She said she’s not sure if she’s just being sensitive, or if there has been more reporting about the attack on the World Trade Center and its aftermath.

She recalled how although the people at the family assistance center were very thorough as far as handling the technical aspects of her father’s death, they were vague about details of why Pentagon employees had not been evacuated when the plane hit the Pentagon.

The Pentagon “is the military nerve center; if it’s that susceptible [to an attack], how can we feel safe?” she asked.

She also expressed her disappointment and incredulity that President George W. Bush, instead of meeting with the Pentagon victims’ families in Washington first, went to New York. She said she was especially disappointed when her family received a sympathy card more than a month after her father’s funeral, dated Nov. 29, 2001.

ReNee Troy was quick to add that the families of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks deserved to receive the news coverage they got and a visit from the President, but she simply felt the families of the victims of the Pentagon attack deserved the same treatment.

“It would have made me feel better,” she said. “When they don’t say anything it makes you more of a conspiracy theorist.”

“As far as the victim’s compensation fund goes, ReNee Troy said she has advised her mother to not participate, calling the fund “hush money” because once a survivor’s family accepts money from the fund, they give up their right to sue the airlines. In addition, she said the proceeds from the 401K account and life insurance are deducted from the lump sum paid by the compensation fund.

Despite her feelings about the fund and its constraints, ReNee Troy doesn’t plan to sue the airlines for their negligence in failing to detect the terrorists. Instead, she chooses to remember what her father used to say, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s hero.”

“I’m trying to come to terms with what they [terrorists] did”, the self-professed “daddy’s girl” said. “I can’t walk around the rest of my life with hate in my heart. I’ve tried to understand and I know it’s not personal.”

Today (Wednesday), ReNee Troy and her mother will both attend a second funeral service, at Arlington Cemetery near the Pentagon, where the rest of the remains of those killed in the Pentagon attacks, including those of Willie Troy, will be laid to rest together.

Judy Troy said she is not happy with the way the arrangements were made for the service, but said she recognizes with so many families involved, it would probably be difficult to make arrangements to everyone’s liking.

Like her daughter, Judy Troy is relying on her belief in God to help her through this difficult period of her life.

“I have a strong faith in the Lord” she said, “I have learned to function.”

Sending love and light to the Troy family on this day. Thank you for sharing your story.


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