- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2001

As a military wife, Beatriz "Patty" Hymel has learned to put duty above personal feelings.
On September 11, the principal of Hoffman-Boston Elementary School was in her office preparing a memo about the World Trade Center attacks when her teachers and students saw a low-flying plane ram into the Pentagon just half a mile away.
Moments earlier, she had called her husband at work; something she never did. "We had an understanding. I would never call him at work and if he wanted something, he would call my secretary."
But Lt. Col. Robert Hymel, a retired Air Force pilot, worked as a management analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Pentagon, and she was worried. "I asked him, 'Honey, just how thick are the walls at the Pentagon?'"
She put the phone down after telling him she loved him. It was the last time they ever spoke.
When panicked teachers knocked at her door to tell her about the plane crashing into the Pentagon, Mrs. Hymel had no time to think or worry about her husband of 30 years.
"My first thought was for the children. You are the shepherd, and these are your sheep. You have to be accountable to them," she said.
Mrs. Hymel sprang into action, herding everyone to the cafeteria in the school's basement, where it would be safer. Hoffman-Boston was her baby she has seen the school through its beginning within Oakridge Elementary to a fully independent school in 1999 and she was not about to abandon it and her children.
Her single-minded determination that day and the fact that she put the children above her own family has made her a hero in the eyes of her staff and parents.
"Her dedication to her job is very comforting and very affirming," said parent Lynn Durbin, the school's PTA chief.
Mrs. Hymel remained at the school until the last child was picked up after 6 p.m. and only then did she burst into tears in front of her longtime friend and teacher, Ann Krug, also a military wife.
"It looked pretty grim. She knew that if he was alive, Bob would have called or crawled to her," Mrs. Krug said.
Mrs. Hymel's daughter, Natalie, who had been trying to contact her father, also had not heard from him. At home, there was no message on the answering machine, and his car still stood in the Pentagon's parking lot. "I knew then that he was gone," Mrs. Hymel said.
Staff and children at her school say they are grateful and proud to have her as their principal and have flooded her with hugs, cards and messages of love, which continue to pour in. On the school's Web page, a student describes her as "the best principal."
"She is an inspiration. I am very proud of her," Mrs. Durbin said. "She was so calm that day. She kept everyone else calm."
At the end of a busy school day more than three months after the incident, Mrs. Hymel still struggles with tears as she talks about the man she calls her soulmate. She talks about the good times: The day they first met, his love for swing-dancing, how embarrassed their daughter used to get when she was a teen and her parents kissed in public and held hands, which they did all the time.
The memories of 30 years are all around her. Photographs of her husband playing with their 3-year-old granddaughter, Lauren, and with Natalie who is pregnant with her second child.
"If it is a boy, she plans to call him Nathan Robert, after her father," Mrs. Hymel said.
On the lapel of her red coat she wears a pin she received at a Pentagon ceremony to honor those who died in the September 11 attacks.
Mrs. Hymel met her husband at a dance 32 years ago. She was 20 and a student at Southwest Texas University visiting her parents in Del Rio for the weekend. At first, she didn't go for the young pilot who was training at the Laughlin Air Force Base.
"He was cute and had a great personality, but he was only 5-foot-7 and I liked tall men," she said, laughing.
Then one day he asked her out on a Sunday, after church. "I said, 'Wow. This guy who's training as a pilot goes to church?'"
They were married two years later.
It was their faith that brought them closer, helping them through difficult times. A year after they were married, when Natalie was 2 months old, Mrs. Hymel's husband almost died when his B-52 bomber went down over Vietnam.
"They told me he couldn't possibly survive it," Mrs. Hymel said.
But he did. He was in the hospital for a year-and-a-half, and she nursed him back to health, although one of his hands never healed fully.
Now, Mrs. Hymel said, the knowledge that God gave him back to her helps her deal with her loss. "I count these last 29 years as a blessing," she said.
She finds comfort in her work, but the pain is never far. The holidays have been difficult, especially Thanksgiving, when he would always fix the turkey and dressing from his mother's recipe, she said. The first two weekends, it also was hard going alone to the church where they both were ushers.
"There was this place where we always sat together, and he would put his arm around me," Mrs. Hymel said.
A few years back, he wanted to move to South Carolina, but she was too busy with her new school to consider it.
Now, she said, she did wonder whether things would have been different had they left. "But it is your karma. That is what he would say to me if he could."
Mrs. Hymel said focusing on her duty on September 11 kept her going through the day. With help from her staff, she made sure there was enough food in case they had to stay in the cafeteria all night, she called parents and she kept the children busy. "Some teachers asked me, 'Aren't you worried?' But what could I have done?"
Her husband would have understood, she said.
"I learned from him that your work comes first. He would have done the same."


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