Shuttle tragedy has personal meaning for city residents

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 17, 2003

The Columbia space shuttle tragedy touched the lives of manypeople as their hearts go out to the families of the astronauts,but for some Brookhaven residents the tragedy has an even morepersonal meaning.

Allison and Ashley Dann, the daughters of Mandy Dann ofBrookhaven and Richard Dann of Friendswood, Texas, were shaken whenthey saw the patch worn by crew members of the Columbia appear ontheir television screen.

The patch was something the girls were quite familiar with sinceit was designed by their father for the mission. They rememberlistening to their father, who works for NASA through a Boeingcontract, discuss ideas for the patch more than a year ago withastronaut Kalpana Chawla.

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“They talked about the patch and how they decided to put all theastronauts’ names around it,” said Allison, 13, about thedesign.

The girls were able to spend a whole evening with Chawla duringa visit with their father during Thanksgiving holidays 2001.

“We went to go eat with K.C. (Kalpana Chawla) and her husband,J.P. Then went back to their house,” remembered 11-year-oldAshley.

She and her sister enjoyed just hanging out and getting to knowthe couple, whom they found very interesting.

“It was really cool getting to talk with her because she was anastronaut,” said Allison. “She was really awesome and reallynice.”

The girls are glad to have some fond memories to help them dealwith the tragedy of the Columbia space shuttle. The family realizeshow hard the loss must be especially for Richard Dann.

“He worked with all those people and he felt a special bond,”said Mandy.

For Bob Anthony, the loss was almost like the death of his ownson as he remembered the countless times Columbia pilot WillieMcCool spent at his house as a teenager.

“My son, Clay, and Willie were best friends, so we knew Williequite well,” said Anthony. “He was a guest in our home many, manytimes.”

They became friends shortly after McCool and his family moved toLubbock, Texas, the Anthonys’ hometown, from the island ofGuam.

McCool was a high school sophomore with a talent for running, sohe joined the track team of which Clay was already a member.Remembering the story about the beginning of their friendshipbrought a chuckle from Anthony.

“In Guam they wear flip-flops everywhere,” he said. “Well,Willie shows up for the team’s first work out wearing flip-flopsand everyone was sort of making fun of him, but Clay just kind ofbefriended him.”

Anthony added that the laughter stopped short that day whenMcCool, in his flip-flops, beat the team’s fastest runner who wasranked seventh in the nation. McCool continued his love for runningeven after graduating from high school in 1979, coveting a win overPresident George Bush in a three-mile race in Texas.

“He loved to tell all his friends that he ran against thepresident and he came in first,” said Anthony.

Anthony recalled what an outstanding person McCool wasacademically and socially. Although, they had lost touch over theyears, he remembered that McCool had graduated second in his classfrom the Naval Academy, and was qualified to fly 28 differentairplanes.

The Anthonys knew McCool had become an astronaut, but had noidea he was on the space shuttle Columbia when they first heard ofthe tragedy.

“It grieved us greatly,” said Anthony. “Willie was such a sharp,young man.”