Wives remember husbands killed in Pentagon

Fisher: 'He took pleasure in everything'<@VM>Willcher: 'A great dad'<@VM>Amazing grace<@VM>Contractors lost

Chris Fisher (left) says her husband, Gerald, "had a real sense of fun."

Chris Fisher: Susan Whitney; Gerald Fisher and Ernest Willcher: family photos

Gerald P. "Geep" Fisher's reputation was already known to Chris Fisher when the couple met at a party in 1982.

"He was the guy that threw a really great party at Thanksgiving," she said of her husband, a Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. employee who was killed when American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the Pentagon. "I wanted to get invited, so I introduced myself."

That introduction led to a date to play tennis, which was rained out and replaced by dinner. Within a few months, they were dating exclusively, and in 1984, the couple married.

The Fishers continued the Thanksgiving potluck tradition, typically roasting three turkeys with the help of a neighbor and having their 60-plus guests bring side dishes and desserts to their Potomac, Md., home. So there was no question in Chris Fisher's mind that she would host it again just months after her husband's death.

And that Thanksgiving, there was an added feature: Defense Department officials agreed to come to the Fisher home and present the Defense of Freedom Medal, which was created to honor civilians killed at the Pentagon.

"Geep wasn't a particularly sentimental person, but I think he would have been honored to have gotten the medal and that we were able to do the dinner," Fisher said.

Geep Fisher, 57, worked for Booz Allen, McLean, Va., for 14 years. On Sept. 11, he and two co-workers, Terence Lynch and Ernest Willcher, were meeting with Army Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude and two other officials to discuss a Web-based survivors benefits tool. All six were killed when the plane struck.

In the year since her husband's death, Fisher has attended memorial services, benefit concerts and commemorations at the White House and Pentagon. She's gotten involved with a committee planning a memorial in Montgomery County, Md. She's also weathered the holidays, birthdays and her stepson's wedding, which was scheduled for about two weeks after the terrorist strike but was postponed until June 22.

It was a year of firsts, and one Chris Fisher said she is glad to see coming to an end. And yet the year, as surreal as Fisher said it has been, has taught her a lot.

"Every day, think of something that will make you happy," she said. "Don't just think that there is going to be another day. ... Geep really lived his life that way. He had a real sense of fun."

Still ahead for Fisher is Thanksgiving 2002. She said she wants to hold the dinner again and possibly continue it for years to come, but she won't make a final decision until the time gets closer.

"I don't want it to be a pitiful occasion," she said. "I want it to be a happy event that people will look forward to as opposed to some obligation."

That is how Geep Fisher would want it. "He took pleasure in everything," Fisher said. "His family, his friends, his job."

Ernest Willcher

Shirley Willcher was in a teacher's lounge at Herbert Hoover Middle School in Rockville, Md., Sept. 11, when another teacher came in and said something had happened in New York.

With the television on the World Trade Center, the news came that a plane had hit the Pentagon, where Willcher's husband Ernest, 62, had worked for 25 years as a civilian Army employee before retiring in April 2001 and joining Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., McLean, Va., in May 2001.

"At this point, my thought was Ernie is in Tysons Corner, where his office is," said Willcher, who was working as a substitute at Hoover that day. Calls to her husband's office and cell phone went unanswered, "but that wasn't that unusual," she said.

A fellow teacher and close friend called people she knew at Booz Allen and learned there had been some teams at the Pentagon, and the company was trying to locate them.

"I'm thinking, they'll find him. He's probably on the grounds or something," Willcher said. "But the day just went on and on."

Willcher and Booz Allen officials exchanged several phone calls during the day. The company wanted to know if she had heard from her husband and assured her they would contact her as soon they learned anything.

"I was getting a really bad feeling," she said. Clinging to the hope that he had walked away or was perhaps injured, she told herself, "The Pentagon is a big place. It's just not going to happen."

When, at 7:00 p.m., the phone calls stopped, Willcher feared the worst. "I knew if something really bad happened, they wouldn't call to tell me," she said.

At about 9:15 p.m., a "very gracious and kind gentleman" from Booz Allen came to Willcher's home in Gaithersburg, Md., with the news. Her husband and two co-workers, Gerald Fisher and Terence Lynch, were meeting at the Pentagon with Army Lt. Gen. Timothy Maude and two other officials to discuss a Web-based survivors benefits tool. All six were killed when the plane struck.

The year since the terrorist attack has been a blur, Willcher said. "It's like the alcoholic's philosophy: One day at a time."

Shirley and Ernest Willcher were married in 1978 and had two sons, Ben, 21, and Joel, 18. They have become Shirley Willcher's top priority in dealing with her husband's death.

"I guess I was pretty determined not to let it overtake their lives," she said. "They are young, and they need to mourn their dad and miss him, but I didn't want them to cave in. I didn't want them to be incapacitated by it."

The commemorations and other ceremonies at the one month and six month anniversaries of the attack have helped, Willcher said. She has attended events at the Pentagon and the White House.

"I think they especially helped the kids," she said. "It helps them understand what happened and understand that their dad was part of a bigger picture in the country, and hopefully that he didn't die for nothing."

But even without special events, there are constant reminders, Willcher said, joking that she's even considered changing the time she goes to the grocery store to avoid people.

"It just never goes away," she said. "But at the same time, I don't want people to ignore me. I want people to remember, but it is hard to find the right balance, I guess."

Ernest Willcher was the type of person who enjoyed his work, and he spent 40 years working for the Army, the last 25 at the Pentagon, Shirley Willcher said.

"People underrate public service a lot, but he felt it was a very worthwhile thing to do," she said.

And he was very excited about working at Booz Allen. "Here was a guy, 62 years old, and he signed up for their retirement program," she said.

"One time someone told me the definition of integrity was doing the right thing for the right reason. That was Ernie," Willcher said. "He was always doing the right thing for the right reason."

Mostly, Willcher said she hopes her husband will be remembered as a father.

"Montgomery County [Md.] has called about memorials and pieces of stone, but in my mind, I feel like his children will be his memorial," she said. "He was a great dad."Donald Winter was ending a business trip to London when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. "One thing I will always remember was the immediate sense of support we got from all the Britons," said Winter, president and CEO of TRW Systems in Reston, Va.

Realizing air traffic would be halted, Winter's group returned to the hotel they had just left. Staff there "realized we were a bunch of Yanks," he said. "There was such an expression of sorrow, regret and support. It was just amazing."

A few days later, the European Union held a moment of silence. Winter went to a ceremony in front of the U.S. embassy at London's Grosvenor Square.

"There was a line all the way around the square of Brits who had lined up to sign the condolence book," Winter said. "When the moment of silence came, as opposed to the normal way in the United States when lots of things still go on, London just shut down. You could hear the wind between the trees. The silence was just amazing."

Trevor Noble worked in the World Trade Center last summer as an intern for Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc. His last day of work on the 99th floor of the north tower was Sept. 3, 2001. After graduation from Baylor University in May 2002, Noble followed several family members to Northrop Grumman Corp.

"Being a part of the trade center made the attacks much closer to heart than many will ever imagine. All the people I knew who were lost, I can picture when the events took place," said Noble, now with Northrop Grumman IT in Seattle as an inside sales representative.

He said Sept. 11 inspired him toward work benefiting the government.

Noble also slowed his daily pace. "I tend to think a little bit more about things. I'm not as impatient," he said. "I vividly remember being on the 99th floor. Not a day goes by where I don't think about my co-workers who lost their lives one week after I left."Killed at the Pentagon

Donna Bowen, Verizon Communications

Allen Boyle, Fredericksburg, Va.

Julian Cooper, 39, Navy contractor

Gerald Fisher, 57, Booz Allen Hamilton

Terence Lynch, Booz Allen Hamilton

Jerry Moran, 39, Navy contractor

Khang Nguyen, 41, Science Applications International Corp.

Scott Powell, BTG Inc.

Ernest Willcher, 62, Booz Allen Hamilton

Edmond Young, BTG Inc.

Aboard American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon

Suzanne Calley, 42, Cisco Systems

Charles Droz, 52, EM Solutions

Chandler Keller, 29, Boeing Co.

Dong Lee, 48, Boeing Co.

Rueben Ornedo, 39, Boeing Co.

Robert Penniger, 63, BAE Systems

Robert Ploger III, 59, Lockheed Martin

John Sammartino, 37, XonTech

Leonard Taylor, 44, XonTech

John Yamnicky Sr., 71, Veridian Corp.

Vicki Yancey, 44, Vredenburg

Aboard American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center north tower

Jeffrey Coombs, 42, Compaq

Peter Gay, 54, Raytheon Co.

Daniel Lewin, 31, Akamai Technologies

Philip Rosenzweig, 47, Sun Microsystems

Aboard United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the south tower

John Cahill, 56, Xerox

James Hayden, 47, Netegrity

United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania

Edward Felt, 41, BEA Systems

Sources: Defense Department, Associated Press, Bloomberg News Service

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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