“Honey, call 911. My flight’s been hijacked. I know we’re all going to die. I’m not giving up. We’re getting ready to do something. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you honey.” These were the words spoken by 38 year old Tom Burnett three thousand feet in the air over the skies of Pennsylvania on the morning of September 11th twenty years ago to his wife Deena who was having breakfast at home in California. Tom was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93. Tom continued, “It’s up to us. I think we can do it...Pray, Deena, just pray.” “I love you,” Deena said. “Don’t worry,” Tom responded, “We’re going to do something.” Tom chose to not become a victim, but to be a hero.
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the greatest tragedy most of our nation has ever experienced. Just the numbers “9/11” cause an emotional stir in each of us. We can’t change what happened, but we can choose how we respond. We can choose to be victims or we can choose to be heroes.
The passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 left the Newark International Airport runway in New Jersey at 8:42 a.m. EST. The 37 passengers and 7 crew aboard were looking forward to arriving in San Francisco later that day. The flight left the runway and headed northeast, towards New York City. As the flight banked to the west, the passengers on the right side of the plane could see the towers of the World Trade Center glimmering in the morning sun. The towers stood side by side as a symbol of New York City for 29 years.
The pilots and passengers of Flight 93 were some of the last to see the towers standing proudly. It wasn’t five minutes later that American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Flight 93 was in the air 1 hour and 24 minutes. In that hour and 24 minutes, our world, our country, and our lives were forever changed. Before this flight would violently return to earth, not only would two other hijacked planes hit their targets, the South Tower of the World Trade Center would collapse with the North tower collapsing not far behind. The ripples from the tragedies would sweep our entire country instantaneously covering us with a cloud of confusion, sympathy, frustration, and then anger.
The events of September 11th created both victims and heroes. Today, we have the opportunity to choose to be victims or heroes. Those on board the plane that struck the North Tower were victims. Those on board the plane that struck the South Tower were victims. Those on board the plane that struck the Pentagon were victims. They did not really have any choice. Who would have thought when they boarded their flights that the planes they were in would be hijacked and then made into suicide missiles. The pilots on flight 93 were also victims. They did not know what was about to happen to their plane.
But the passengers of United Flight 93 had a decision to make. Would they be victims as those on the other three flights or would they be heroes? Outgoing calls from passengers on Flight 93 led to their being educated as to what was happening to hijacked planes flying out of eastern airports. Learning what was happening, the passengers of Flight 93 had the opportunity to choose whether or not they would also become victims.
Passenger Jeremy Glick, 31, on the phone with his wife Lyzbeth who was watching the Twin Towers events on their television said, “He’s going to blow us up. But if he’s going to crash into something, well, let’s not let that happen. Our best chance is to fight these people rather than accept it!” Her words of advice back to him were brief and to the point, “Be strong. I love you. Do what you have to do.” Jeremy Glick chose not to become a victim, but to be a hero.
A 32 year old from New Jersey, Todd Beamer, modeled for us how we should respond in difficult times in our own lives. He called out on an air phone and told the operator about the hijacking, the men with knives behind the locked door in the cockpit, the pilot and copilot lying on the floor possibly dead, and the turmoil on the plane. Knowing he was in the final hour of his life, Todd, a devout Christian, asked the operator to say the Lord’s Prayer with him.
Together they prayed the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want...Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies...Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I get emotional when I picture Todd on that plane high above the clouds praying to God from the depths of his soul.
He asked the operator to call his family and tell them he loved them. He said that he and a few passengers were going to “jump” the hijacker with the bomb and try to regain control of the plane. The operator said, “I stand behind you.” After screams and commotion in the background, Todd dropped the phone. His final words heard through the receiver were words he had used many times to motivate his two young sons at a different time in a different setting, “Let’s roll!” Todd Beamer chose to not become a victim, but to be a hero.
Todd modeled for us what our response should be to tragedies in our own lives. He prayed, then he took action. These men were heroes.
Tom Burnett, Jeremy Glick, Todd Beamer, and the other passengers on Flight 93 were blessed because they had a choice. They could have become victims or they had the opportunity to be heroes.
We, as the passengers on flight 93, also have been blessed because we have a choice. We as a nation, we as a community, we as individuals can choose to take action and to be heroes or we will can sit back and become victims.
My challenge to you is to respond to the events of September 11th by praying, taking action, and choosing to be a hero. The choice is yours. Don’t become a victim of September 11th. God knows there have been too many of those already. I believe the passengers on Flight 93 were called for their time. I believe you and I have been called for this time.
The passengers on flight 93 were the first to fight back against the terrorists that day. Those who chose to be heroes on that flight have passed the torch to us. It is now up to us to make our choice. As individuals, as a community, as a nation, are we going to become victims or will we choose to be heroes? What will tomorrow bring? If we choose to be a nation of heroes, there isn’t an enemy who can break our courage or our spirit.
Just a thought...
Rick Kraft is a motivational speaker, a syndicated columnist, a published author, and an attorney. To submit comments, contributions, or ideas, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org:email@example.com or write to P.O. Box 850, Roswell, New Mexico, 88202 - 0850.