In the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, millions of Americans watched TV in horror as the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York vomited black smoke like factory chimneys.
By THERESE PARK
Special to The Star
The idea of people falling to their deaths from 110 floors above seemed unreal, but on that morning real people facing death chose to jump rather than to incinerate in the inferno.
More than 2,700 people died in the attacks on New York, and moments later, an airplane crashed into the Pentagon, causing more deaths. While firefighters, police and other rescue workers rushed to save people trapped in the burning buildings, yet another hijacked plane had turned toward Washington, D.C., probably to destroy the White House.
Among the 33 passengers on United Flight 93 was Todd Beamer, 32, whose name America will hear over and over for many years to come. He and a few other passengers jumped the hijackers in the cockpit, forcibly changing the terrorists’ destination. They crashed into an empty field about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, saving lives of people on the ground as well as the nation’s treasures in the capital.
By reading the book “Let’s Roll!” written by Todd’s wife, Lisa Beamer, I gained some valuable insight about what happened on Flight 93 moments before it exploded on the ground, as well as Todd’s leadership and his devotion to his motherland.
Apparently, Todd and other passengers had not heard of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon until after four terrorists had taken control of the cockpit, killed two airline employees by slashing their throats, and forced all the passengers to the rear of the plane.
Like other passengers, Todd tried to call home through an air-phone nearest him, but his call was routed to customer service and he ended up talking to Lisa Jefferson, a Verizon operator. Todd reported to her in detail what was happening and said he and other passengers would not simply accept their impending fate but would do something. The two talked for about 15 minutes.
Todd could have asked to be connected with his wife but he didn’t, probably because he didn’t want to lose his courage to do what he and others were planing if he talked to his pregnant wife, whom he had to leave behind with his two little boys. Todd did leave his final message to his wife through the operator, though, saying he loved her, their two boys and the child who was on the way, very much. His final request to Lisa was to pray the Lord’s Prayer with him, and then he turned to other passengers and said, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!”
Within seconds, through the phone line still connected to the plane, Lisa Jefferson heard everything — ear-shattering clatters, screams, curses, thumps, explosion and, finally, dead silence.
Lisa Beamer explains in her book: “‘Let’s roll’ is not a slogan…it’s a lifestyle Todd and I began together… Each time I hear those words, Todd’s voice calls out once again, letting us know it’s time to get serious…Our journey is different now but it’s still one of hope, faith and knowledge of our ultimate destination.”
Some pages are difficult to read without tears; for instance, when her oldest, 4-year-old, David, asked her brother in their car, “Uncle Paul, could you be my daddy?” I felt the pain of a little boy longing for Daddy, who was now mysteriously absent from his world. And on his daddy’s birthday, two months after 9-11, David somehow understood his mommy’s grief, yet innocently asked, “But we can still have the cake, can’t we?”
Lisa Beamer doesn’t hide her doubts. As the delivery of her new baby approached, she wrote that she wondered, “Why is this baby coming into the world where he/she will never know Daddy, will never see Daddy’s smile (or) hear his voice…?”
Her grief, denial, doubts and acceptance — acceptance that she’s now a single mother of three small children and that she has to move forward with life — is for everyone.
I can’t imagine what it’d be like waking up one morning to find “his” side of the bed empty. I don’t know how one accepts the cruel reality that her husband of many years will never walk in and announce, “I’m home!”
Lisa Beamer concludes, “If September 11 has taught us anything, it is that we’re never really in control. Hope comes from knowing who is in control….At a time of uncertainty, many people look for something to cling to, and I hope we can cling to the One…who’s really in charge.”
Retired musician Therese Park has written three novels. Her most recent, “The Northern Wind: Forced Journey to North Korea,” is available at Rainy Day Books.