An upbringing in Brooklyn. First-responder families. 9/11 losses. West Point educations. Fighting in Afghanistan. Serving in so many ways. The shared connections between two former Army captains are so strong, it’s hard to imagine them not forging a friendship.
But their bond may not have begun if Patrick Dowdell didn’t happen to crash on Joe Quinn’s couch for a few months back in 2006 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Dowdell explains that the Army messed up his orders, forcing him to arrive for training without a room and to bunk in his truck the first night.
“I drove from Brooklyn to Fort Sill with my brother and pulled in and I was a little shell shocked,” said Dowdell. “I had no idea what to expect.”
Luckily, he made some phone calls to friends who told him he needed to connect with Quinn, a “good guy” who was sure to help a fellow soldier from the same Marine Park neighborhood.
“Well, he showed up in a Cadillac and a velour suit. A credible person,” joked Quinn about his first impression of Dowdell.
Humor, Quinn explains, is one of the ways both men deal with tragedy, and they related to each other right off the bat.
“I think Pat and I, we tend to deal with trauma and loss by, you know, joking around with each other, and it just gives us comfort because we’re probably the only two guys who could do that, to try to bring lightness to it,” said Quinn.
The “it” Quinn refers to is a bond the friends discovered that went way beyond being raised in the same town or the fact that they had both recently graduated from West Point. Their families had a history of service and suffering — Dowdell’s father worked as a firefighter for the FDNY while Quinn’s dad spent his career as an NYPD officer. On 9/11 both Dowdell’s father, Kevin, and Quinn’s younger brother, Jimmy, lost their lives in the attacks.
“It was sort of instant,” said Quinn about his connection with Dowdell. “Obviously, it’s slightly different losing a brother versus a father, but I have always seen it as, my brother was 23, on top of the North Tower. He was a baby, he was a kid, and Pat’s father went in to try to save my brother and people like my brother. Then, with the Army and the West Point connection, you go through so many shared experiences, and increasing on that, to have that kind of neighborhood bond was special.”
Reunion in Afghanistan
When 9/11 happened, Quinn was a senior at West Point, while Dowdell had recently committed to attending the academy at the encouragement of this father. Quinn remembers how his entire course changed in an instant that day.
“On Sept. 10, I was just trying to survive — academics, going to basketball practice, and getting ready for the season,” said Quinn, who was on an athletic scholarship. “I said, ‘You know, I’ll probably join the Army and get out after two years.’ On Sept. 11, basketball was the least of my concerns. I knew why I was there. I was going to join the Army and do what I had to do.”
Read: The aftermath of war
Quinn deployed to Iraq twice during his active-duty service, the second stint during the surge from 2006-2007 as part of the Reconciliation & Engagement Cell. Following these tours, he earned his graduate degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and then spent eight months in Afghanistan as part of the Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team (CAAT).
It was then, in 2010, when Quinn reunited with Dowdell, the first time the friends had seen each other since Fort Sill.
“It wasn’t a revenge thing necessarily; it was more, if someone’s got to go, why not me,” said Dowdell about the war. “I was capable, I wanted to help, and to be able to do that was certainly an honor.”
Part of that honor included Dowdell bringing a piece of an I-beam from the World Trade Center to Forward Operating Base in Farah, displayed as a reminder of why the troops were there. On Sept. 11, 2010, when both Dowdell and Quinn were together, they helped organize a memorial at headquarters and participated in a ceremony to recognize the 9th anniversary with their fellow service members.
“To be together in Afghanistan on that day, there is no one else I would have rathered be with than Patrick,” said Quinn.
Of course, when two friends rely on laughter as a form of survival, less serious moments are expected — even in Afghanistan. Dowdell recalls “looking like we were on a beach in New York somewhere” upon Quinn’s arrival in less-than-appropriate dress and watching the movie “My Cousin Vinny” during downtime.
Committed to service
Though they are now both successful veterans with busy careers, families, and five kids between them, Quinn and Dowdell never stop working to honor the legacy of Kevin and Jimmy. Dowdell, who works full time as a sales director, has performed across the country with the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums since 2001. He’s also a founding member and vice president of the Lt. Kevin C. Dowdell Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) Division 4.
Quinn, the former executive director of the military mental health nonprofit Headstrong Project, now raises awareness and funds for the families of 9/11 victims through his business, Feltman’s of Coney Island Hot Dogs, opened in 2015 in memory of his hot dog-loving brother.
“I really distilled it down to its simplest form,” explains Quinn about his decision to turn tragedy into triumph. “You can either choose the dark or the light. I try my damndest to do good things as a person.”
“I mean, it’s a part of it is his legacy, right,” he said about respecting his father. “It’s part of who we are. 9/11 was a negative thing, but we have both made a great attempt at making it a positive thing.”
Quinn points out that coming from a neighborhood that values patriotism and pride had a strong influence on the values he shares with Dowdell.
“It’s sort of instilled in us, from our parents, informed by our neighbors, and the fact that we believe we owe it to our brothers and sisters who served or who have served because of our brother and father,” Quinn said.
Today, the well-connected friends see each other often on weekends when Quinn visits Breezy Point, New York, the beach town where both his parents and Dowdell reside. The Queens community is also home to a memorial that includes a cross made of World Trade Center steel and glass etchings that serve as tributes to all of the community members who died on 9/11, including Kevin Dowdell and Jimmy Quinn.
This symbolic site is yet another monumental part of life that these men have in common.
“I mean we’re probably gonna grow old together and be at the VFW,” imagined Quinn, “talking about all these things and, most importantly, remembering. Whether it’s Pat’s father, my brother, or others who perished on 9/11 … whether it’s our friends that we lost overseas or those who were wounded or those who are dealing with mental health issues. We’re in a unique position to help that narrative and do something about it. It’s just the beginning.”
In honor of the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 100-plus friends and family of Joe Quinn’s brother Jimmy, a diehard baseball fan, will gather at Citi Field for an annual tradition on Sept. 11. They will watch the Mets play the Yankees and reconnect with their lost loved one.
This year’s 20th Annual Jimmy Quinn Fundraiser Game T-Shirt is available for purchase online at Feltman’s, www.feltmansofconeyisland.com/products/jimmy-quinn-memorial-shirt-1. Profits will benefit the 3 Brothers Foundation, a nonprofit created by the Quinn brothers in Jimmy’s memory, which is dedicated to supporting organizations that provide social, educational, and mental health services to military heroes, service members, and their families.Read comments