It’s easy to say, “Never Forget”, and for those of us who witnessed any part of the news coverage or the actual attacks we will never be able to forget the horrors the United States endured on September 11, 2001. There are markers and memorials in the impacted areas in New York City, Arlington County, VA, and Stonycreek Township, PA that commemorate the people who died and the people who helped rescue those lucky enough to escape with their lives, so that everyone born after that date will forever be able to learn about the history of largest terrorist attacks in human history. Today, I would like to highlight a few specific heroes whose efforts 16 years ago helped to save the lives of many others in the hope that this will help us to continue to remember them and their sacrifices and contributions.
First, I want to salute a single individual named Todd Beamer. Beamer was a sales rep for IBM traveling for work from Newark to San Francisco onboard United Airlines Flight 93. United 93 was one of the four airplanes hijacked on September 11, 2001, and it appeared to be bound for Washington D.C. after the hijackers turned the plane southeast as they flew near Cleveland. The plane never made it to its target thanks to efforts of Beamer and fellow passengers, including Alan Beaven, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, William Cashman, Jeremy Glick, Linda Gronlund, Rich Guadagno, Lou Nacke, and Honor Elizabeth Waino, as well as flight attendants Sandra Bradshaw and Cee Cee Ross-Lyle. They called their loved ones, prayed together, and then stormed the cockpit.
Their brave efforts to fight back against the terrorists who had killed the pilots led to the United 93 crashing into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Todd led the charge to reclaim the plane, first calling on one of the plane’s seat phones and connecting with Lisa Jefferson, a supervisor at GTE Airfone who spoke with Todd about the situation and the passengers’ plan to retake the plane. She prayed with him and some passengers, then Todd checked with the group, asking if they were ready. When he was given an affirmative response, he said, “Let’s roll.” Sadly, all aboard perished in the crash, but their sacrifice ensured that no one else would suffer from another attack. Todd and the others on United 93 are American heroes and should be forever remembered as such. Thank you to them all.
All of us in the United States also owe a great debt to our northern neighbors who helped to safely redirect the flights that were already in the air after the attacks had begun. The attacks prompted the FAA (the United States Federal Aviation Administration) to ground all flights close down American airspace – the first time in history that such an immense action was taken. This left over 250 planes bound for US airports in the air with nowhere to land. Operation Yellow Ribbon was Canada’s response. Canada took in 255 airplanes at 17 of their airports in cities great and small, and at military bases. Canadian airspace was also shut down for departing flights, except those with emergency and military distinction.
The Canadian government and the airports with diverted planes helped secure lodging and meals for the passengers of each aircraft. The following year, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said,
9/11 will live long in memory as a day of terror and grief. But thanks to the countless acts of kindness and compassion done for those stranded visitors here in Gander and right across Canada it will live forever in memory as a day of comfort and of healing…. You did yourselves proud, ladies and gentlemen, and you did Canada proud.
To the entire nation of Canada, thank you.
Finally, a nod to astronaut Frank Culbertson, who was Station Commander on the International Space Station and took the title picture as ISS passed over New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. Of the sight of the great smoke plume rising from the tower of the World Trade Center he went on to say,
“It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are.”
Culbertson also wrote a couple of letters in response to learning of the attacks which you can read here. Near the end of the final letter, he expresses hope that their mission can be a beacon of hope and cooperation for future harmony:
I hope the example of cooperation and trust that this spacecraft and all the people in the program demonstrate daily will someday inspire the rest of the world to work the same way. They must!
I know many of us wholeheartedly agree.
Thanks for reading and watching. As we honor our heroes and remember our fallen from 16 years ago, let us continue to do what we can to aid in the efforts to brace and heal in Texas, Florida, the rest of the southeast US, and the Caribbean islands affected by the trio of hurricanes currently impacting America. Good luck to everyone seeking shelter and to all aiming to help them find it.