High School Students Send Roses to Pentagon Workers
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2001 Army Maj. Gen. Sue B. Dueitt was rushing through the Pentagon to attend a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery for a soldier killed in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon when three men stopped her.
Harold Heilsnis of DoD's Directorate for Public Inquiry and Analysis presents Marine Corps Pfc. Rachael Farrell a bouquet of donated roses. The symbolic 189 bouquets -- 189 people perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon -- were the idea of three girls in Fallbrook, Calif., who held a "Pennies for the Pentagon" drive to raise more than $1,100 in a week. Heilnis and co-workers randomly distributed the flowers to building workers on Oct. 11, 2001. Photo by Rudi Williams.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At first, Dueitt was taken aback. Then a broad smile of delight brightened her face when Harold Heilsnis, Dan Philbin and Carl Cooper presented her a bouquet of red roses. Heilsnis told her how three high school girls at Fallbrook (Calif.) High School raised money for the flowers to show their appreciation for people at the Pentagon.
The trio are April Schimke, 16, Cari Issacs, 18, and Tazza Colby, 17. They held a drive they called "Pennies for the Pentagon." They designed a logo for collection cans and put them out at local businesses and at their school. After a week, they had raised $1,150.50.
With Philbin's help, the girls approached Conklyn's Florist, a company here with a branch store in the Pentagon. They learned how ambitious their idea of 189 dozen roses had been -- that many roses would normally cost more than $10,000. The store suggested cut flowers instead.
But Conklyn's didn't know everything going on.
"When I e-mailed them the logo, they noticed that it said '189 dozens of roses -- that's our goal,'" April's mother, Gail, said. "They said, 'Now that we've seen the logo, we have to send roses." Pentagon store manager Lesley Beavers said Conklyn's headquarters chipped in $5,500 and delivered 189 bouquets of six roses each to her.
Armed with the girls' 189 bouquets, the three "delivery men" loaded them on a large handcart and went from office to office from the basement to the fifth floor randomly passing out roses to military and civilian men and women. Heilsnis is director for public inquiry and analysis in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Philbin is one of his writer-editors and Cooper, one of his clerks.
Dueitt, assistant deputy chief of staff for Army personnel, had been on her way to memorial services for Army Lt. Col. David Scales. "Twenty-one members of our office perished, plus some consultants. Our front office was at ground zero," she said.
She said the next day, "I gave those flowers to his mother with an explanation that they came from young people in California. I told her that the roses came almost from sea to shining sea on this one month anniversary (Oct. 11) of the tragedy at the Pentagon. Her eyes welled up with tears."
The flower bringers stopped by the Defense Protective Service Office on the concourse and presented roses to Master Patrol Officer Don R. Brennan and Officer Frances Ochoa.
"I feel honored and loved," Ochoa beamed. "I'd like to tell them, 'Thank you so much.' This means a lot to us. We've been through a lot, but with the support of a lot of kids, we've made it through. I've also been going to elementary schools talking to kids about the incident."
Pointing to a door full of cards and letters from elementary schoolchildren, Ochoa said, "They made the cards for the officers and the people in the Pentagon who went through this tremendous day. We really thank all the kids for their support."
"This is really neat," Brennan said. "I'm very moved by the fact that they would do this for us. We really appreciate it."
Handed a bouquet, Army Sgt. Katherine M. Levin of the Joint Staff Intelligence Director's Office broke into a hearty laugh and then said, "I'm very surprised and delighted that other people have such an outpouring of warmth for the people here at the Pentagon. It's very sweet of them and it shows just how much America has and how much we have to look forward to. It also shows why people like me are in uniform."
"I think this is a really lovely gesture," Air Force technical writer Pia Maschio said. "It's been really hard to come back here and work, but I've been glad to do it. I know that here, people are not afraid and are just trying to do what they can in the war effort. That makes me feel really good. To know that there are children out there thinking of us and praying for us means the world to me."
"I'm really touched," said research analyst Jesa Felix, a contractor. "This kind of environment is so stressful and high strung. You don't expect nice and thoughtful things like this, especially with what has been going on. I feel privileged and honored that they actually thought about us all the way on the West Coast, and I appreciate it."
"These schoolchildren are one of the reasons we come here and come to work every day, because our job is to protect them and make sure that something horrible like this doesn't happen to them," technical writer Nicole Finch said. "We really appreciate that they remember us."
"I'm stunned," said Air Force Col. Keith Wagner, holding his roses. "You hear about these types of things on TV, catch a glimpse of it back home where you grew up. You hear about people with their concerns. And perfect strangers offer their condolences, thoughts and prayers with you."
"I'm almost speechless," said Wagner, of the Joint Staff's Directorate for Operational Plans and Interoperability. "It's a lot of time, effort and money involved for them to do this."
"I think it's a very sweet idea," Marine Corps Pfc. Rachael Farrell said. "It's really nice to know that people really do care."
"I feel appreciated," said Farrell's co-worker Lance Cpl. Shelly Henderson.
"It's the nicest thing that has happened to me in a long time," said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria "Torie" Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. "I always get choked up talking about this. As tragic as the events of Sept. 11 were, so many people have done so many amazing things."
Noting that the roses show that the outpouring of affection, caring and concern hasn't stopped, Clarke said, "It wasn't as though it was just for a few days people thought about this place and cared about this place. The caring and support for the Pentagon and the people who work here has been amazing."
"So to the students and the people of Fallbrook, thanks very much for thinking of us. It's really wonderful," she said.