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U.S. News
Stephanie Ross Dunn: Widow of Pentagon victim

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Alexandria Patricia Dunn was born March 15. She was named for the Washington suburb in which her parents met and for the father who died when a hijacked airplane slammed into his office at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

The baby's arrival allowed Stephanie Ross Dunn, who lost her husband, Navy Cmdr. Patrick Dunn, to do something she hadn't been able to manage since December: Visit his grave in Arlington National Cemetery, on a spot overlooking the place where he died.

"I had a hard time being pregnant and visiting a gravesite of my husband," Dunn said. "I didn't want people to see a pregnant woman there. I didn't want people to feel sorry for me. I still don't want people to feel sorry for me."

Now, she says, "Allie" feels at home next to the small, white stone in the national cemetery.

"It's always important for me to let her touch the headstone. Now she tries to eat it. She tries to put it in her mouth," Dunn said. "She does her cooing and talking to him. It's really kind of neat."

Dunn, 32, raised in Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon, has settled into single motherhood by living on a combination of her husband's pension, Social Security, and Red Cross stipends that are now three months overdue. She put aside some insurance money in hopes of someday buying a house for herself and Allie.

The telephone at her suburban Washington, D.C., home answers as "the Dunn family" and she plans to return to work at some point. In the months preceding Allie's birth, Stephanie had left her job at a retirement community.

Stephanie is not the only Pentagon widow who has given birth since Sept. 11. She became close to another of these women, who had a son two months after Allie.

"They're going to get married," she laughed. "We've saved ourselves the trouble of having them date."

The sense of humor took a while to return.

In the weeks after 9/11, Dunn was almost paralyzed by the publicity and her grief. She remembers standing in the frozen foods aisle of a grocery store, weeping quietly at the sight of the single-serving dinners she was now buying.

"Now it's part of life. Now it's become normal for me to be shopping for one. Plus formula, of course," she said.

She has done the usual round of interviews. The Washington Post covered Allie's birth on its front page. She will do a few television shows, including a live broadcast from the Pentagon on the anniversary, but plans to draw back from public life after the anniversary.

"I want Allie to grow up as Allie, and not the Pentagon Girl," she said.

Dunn has watched the progress of the American military and the Bush administration. She thinks both are doing superbly.

"In my heart I know the armed forces are going to take care of us and there's nothing I can do by worrying about it. I think the president's doing the best he can and doing a great job," she said. "I don't think it's equivalent to a huge war like World War II or anything like that, but we all know in our minds that it's going to be taken care of.

"The world's going to be a better place. But I don't know when that's going to be."

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