9-11 Firefighter's Son at West Point

Associated Press Writer

WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) -- Kevin Dowdell worked hard to get his son into West Point. He coaxed Patrick through the grueling application process, talked up VIPs and called his congressman every day.

Days after a personal visit to the congressman's office, Patrick's firefighter father died, on Sept. 11, in the World Trade Center.

Inspired by the memory of his father, 19-year-old Patrick pushed forward with his West Point application. This week, Patrick finished his journey to the U.S. Military Academy, arriving at West Point wearing a T-shirt bearing his father's fire company logo and a steel bracelet with his father's name and ``WTC 9-11.''

He could even imagine his father's voice reminding him to keep up the good behavior.

``When my dad was alive, he did everything he could to help me get in,'' Patrick said. ``He would help me with the paperwork. He would talk to the guys that might be able to help.''

Patrick is tall and fit with short, dark hair. His mother says he looks and acts just like his father, a lieutenant in the New York City fire department. Neither one could sit still.

Patrick and his younger brother, James, would take walks with their father near the bay by their home in Breezy Point, Queens. They marched together in the County Tyrone band: Patrick played bagpipes and James the snare drum while their father thumped a bass drum with each left step.

Bagpipes first brought Patrick to West Point. He was playing at a celebration there in 1997 when he thought of becoming a cadet. He asked his father: Can I really do this? The answer was yes.

Patrick tried to get into West Point right out of high school, but was put on a waiting list. He went to Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., last fall with plans to try again.

His father kept helping.

``He was a talker, my husband,'' said Rose Ellen Dowdell. ``He talked to a lot of different people. ... He had all these people for Patrick to speak to.''

Rep. Anthony Weiner said his office received daily calls from Lt. Dowdell about Patrick's application. Father and son visited Weiner's office on the second weekend of September.

The pair drove back up to Iona that Sunday, Sept. 9. Patrick got out, kissed his dad on the cheek, told him he loved him and said goodbye.

Two days later, Lt. Dowdell and Rescue 4 were racing across the Brooklyn Bridge to the burning towers. No one knows exactly how the firefighter's final moments played out.

Patrick said his father was likely by the command center in the South Tower when it collapsed, but his remains were never found. He was 46.

Patrick did not let grief sidetrack him.

``It was tough,'' Patrick said. ``I did think about that a lot. But I also tried to put myself in the position: What would he be doing? Would he want me to be sitting home, sitting around not doing anything, letting this whole West Point thing squeeze by?''

Without his father to push him, Patrick pushed himself.

``I was him and me. I was saying, 'Pat, You have to do this.'''

Some days, he would make five phone calls before heading to classes. A Christmas party for Trade Center families was a chance to seek nominating letters from former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen and other department brass.

As he worked at his application and his studies, he also started digging at ground zero, which helped him understand what happened to his father.

On New Year's Eve, when his friends were at parties and bars, Patrick stood at the spot where he believes his dad was buried. Just past midnight, he said a prayer.

Patrick was accepted to West Point this spring. Like all incoming cadets, he first must go through a notorious six-week training session nicknamed ``Beast Barracks.'' His mother and brother saw him off at the Hudson Valley academy on Monday.

``This is like the biggest thing for my husband,'' Rose Dowdell said. ``This is what he was wishing for. It's the greatest thing, but I wish he was here to see it.''