This column was published Nov. 7, 2009. With the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center it is reprinted here with some alterations. The subjects were all directly affected by the events of 2001.
Three young women, Ryan Manion, Heather Kelly and Amy Looney Heffernan, have written a book they’ve called “The Knock at the Door.”
The title is a figure of speech – only one of the women, Heather Kelly, experienced an actual knock on her door. That was when her husband, 2nd Lt. Rob Kelly, had been killed in Afghanistan.
Marines knocked on Heather’s door, at 3 a.m. in California, at the same time Rob’s parents, in Washington, D.C., were informed. Rob’s father was Gen. John Kelly, commander of the Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North, and later, President Trump’s chief of staff.
Ryan’s mother, Janet, answered the knock then slammed the door so hard she broke one of the hinges. When she saw the Marines, she knew her son, 2nd Lt. Travis Manion, had been killed. She would not, could not, listen to the message.
Amy Looney was not at home when the Navy knocked on her door on Sept. 21, 2010. She was busy on the road, working in her sales job. When she arrived at her office she was told that naval officers would meet her at a hotel 25 minutes away.
Driving to that hotel, Amy made wrong turns, chose the wrong roads and arrived an hour and a half later. She ran into the hotel to hear that her husband, Brendan Looney, a Navy SEAL, had been killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. He had been Travis Manion’s roommate at Annapolis, the U.S. Naval Academy.
Ryan Manion, married to Dave and mother of a 10-month-old daughter, rushed to her parents’ home after receiving a frantic phone call. She collapsed on the driveway when she saw her father, Tom, a retired Marine colonel, talking to the Marines who had knocked on the door. It was April 29, 2007.
Janet Manion found a way to cope with the loss of her son. She created the Travis Manion Foundation to help families deal with the loss of a loved one in military service and veterans returning to civilian life. The organization grew swiftly, spreading across the country and catching on at military bases around the world. “She had a big vision,” Ryan recalls.
The Manion family had another setback when Janet was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died April 24, 2012, almost five years to the day after Travis.
When news of Travis’ death came, Ryan had just signed papers to open a clothing shop in downtown Doylestown. She filled her life with activities, took over as executive director of the foundation, ran the Marine Corps Marathon, hosted the Christmas party her mother had always done.
“I believed I had it all figured out,” Ryan said in the book. But then – anxiety. “I had dealt with some minor anxiety before, initially when Travis was deployed ... but nothing like this.”
It took six months to reach a point where she could slowly and carefully change her life. “The previous five years had been marked by endless, furious motion: always moving to a new target, striving toward a new ambition, crushing my body and exhausting my mind to reach some meaningful goal,” she wrote. In many ways, it was the right way to grieve, but it did not last.
Travis Manion and his friend Brendan Looney were buried next to each other in Arlington National Cemetery. Before she died, Janet Manion asked Brendan’s wife, Amy, a longtime family friend, since Annapolis days, to join the Travis Manion Foundation. She opened a California office and began programs there. She married Joel Heffernan and moved to Washington, where she leads the foundation office.
The two young widows suffered as Ryan had, months of depression, not wanting to do anything, making changes to their lives. It took years for them to understand and accept their new roles.
Rob Kelly stepped on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in Afghanistan on Nov. 9, 2010. Heather Kelly, met Rob when she was 17 and a college freshman. He joined the Marines when she was still in college. They married after Heather finished college.