THE ROCKAWAYS, Queens — Patrick Dowdell was only recently home in Queens from a tour of duty in Afghanistan when word came down on May 1, 2011 that Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda leader who inspired the Sept. 11 terror attacks, had been killed by Navy SEALS in Pakistan.
Patrick’s younger brother, James, was already a firefighter, following in the footsteps of their late father, FDNY Lt. Kevin Dowdell, whose remains were never found after the South Tower collapsed.
“Pat grabbed his bagpipes,” James Dowdell, now 36, recalled of that late Sunday night.
“We drove into the city, and we turned a corner,” James Dowdell remembered, referring to their trip downtown to the World Trade Center site.
“Pat was playing God Bless America, and there were thousands of people,” James Dowdell said. “It was a night to remember. It was a very patriotic night.”
In the last 20 years, after the shock of Sept.11, 2001 was processed, the Dowdell brothers have kept their father’s memory alive by living lives of service, and continuing to play in Irish-American pipe and drum bands, as their dad did.
The first boy born into the family, after the brothers both married, was named Kevin — for his grandfather. He is the 6 year old son of James.
Back in August 2002, Patrick Dowdell was a member of the first class of West Point cadets post-9/11.
His father had helped Dowdell with his first application to the military academy, but Patrick was put on a waiting list at age 18.
The teen was attending Iona College when he last saw his father on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2001.
His dad encouraged Patrick to try for West Point again.
“We talked about reapplication and what I needed to do,” Patrick Dowdell recalled.
After Dowdell’s father, who worked for Rescue 4, was listed among the missing on Sept. 11, 2001, Patrick left college for a few weeks and was searching for his dad’s remains.
“I never felt like I had more of a purpose than when I was working at Ground Zero,” Patrick Dowdell, now 38, said recently.
“I was only 18 years old,” he said. “Just being down there and being part of that, it made me feel good.”
“I remember making calls to the West Point admissions office while I was at Ground Zero with a rinky-dink phone,” he added.
Patrick Dowdell ultimately graduated from West Point in May 2006, proudly posing in dress uniform with his brother, James, who had just graduated from the FDNY Academy at age 21. The two met President George W. Bush.
Patrick later did a one-year tour of duty in Baghdad, after Saddam Hussein was removed from power.
He came home to marry his fiancee Katie, and then was off again, assigned to another year of duty, this time in Afghanistan.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I was in Farah, which is in the southwestern part of the country,” Dowdell noted. “There was still a big threat of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and attacks.”
“I knew Patrick was not telling me everything,” his mother, RoseEllen, told PIX11. “And I just kept saying, ‘Your father is watching over you and he’s going to keep you safe.”
Patrick Dowdell returned to the United States unharmed, but he told us about a West Point classmate, Captain Andrew Pedersen-Keel, who was fatally shot by an Afghan soldier who was supposed to be working with the U.S. to stabilize the region. It happened in a dining hall.
“Someone you put your trust in, to be partnered with,” Dowdell said, “to fight the insurgency and get the bad guys. And then they turn and shoot you in the back.”
The Dowdell brothers weathered Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which threatened to destroy the house their father built, as a massive fire fueled by strong winds moved from east to west in Breezy Point.
“It was coming toward my house, ” RoseEllen Dowdell said of the fire, “and the wind changed, and it started going, I think, north.”
It was a blessing of fate.
RoseEllen Dowdell had evacuated to Long Beach with her sister, but RoseEllen’s partner — former firefighter Tom O’Day — stayed behind and salvaged precious photos of her late husband with their sons. O’Day had been a childhood friend of Kevin Dowdell’s.
“It’s nice to have somebody in your life,” RoseEllen Dowdell said with a shy smile, “and I know my kids don’t want to have to take care of me! So, it’s good. It’s good somebody else stepped up to do it.”
Twenty years after 9/11, RoseEllen Dowdell is grateful to have five grandchildren.
Patrick and Katie Dowdell have a daughter, 8-year old Madalyn, and a son, Brian Kevin, who is nearly 5.
James and Chrissy Dowdell have three children: 6-year-old son Kevin, son Connor, 4, and daughter Carly, 10 months.
“They’re all very different,” RoseEllen Dowdell said, “but they all have something that reminds me of Kevin.”
A painting of Kevin Dowdell has a place of honor in the foyer of the house, and RoseEllen Dowdell said her sons pay tribute to him with the way they live their lives.
“I am so proud of the two of them,” she said with her eyes beaming. “I’m really proud of the way they stayed focused.”
“We’re keenly aware of the values that we grew up with,” Patrick Dowdell said. “Kindness, a sense of patriotism, faith.”
And while Patrick is working in private business now, his military service remains part of who he is.
He remembers his thoughts, as he began his assignments for the U.S. Army.
“I felt very good about the fact that my brother, at the time, was protecting the city,” Dowdell said. “And I felt like I was trying to protect the country.”