Throughout my life, I have had heroes. After joining the military, I met them all the time whether it be due to their past deeds, a blue ribboned medal hanging around their neck, or just the day to day, year to year commitment to protect this great Nation.
But on a day of unspeakable evil, 4 men emerge as superheroes.
For 14 years, I have lived a commitment to put my life at risk for the protection of this country. But even as a veteran of the Gulf War, anything I have done that can be even be remotely categorized as heroic pales in comparison to the actions of Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Mark Bingham, and Lou Nacke.
You see, as a Marine, I have been trained to kill if necessary. I have learned close combat skills and killing techniques with or without a knife against an enemy. I know how to use pistols, rifles, machine guns, and in the ultimate struggle, my bare hands to disable a threat. But I was trained. I made a solemn commitment to fight. I accepted my potential role to die for my country long ago. Conversely, these men, these magnificent definitions of the word, did not have that preparation. They were four ordinary guys on a plane going about their daily lives. In case you have not heard, this is what happened.
United flight 93 was hijacked on September 11th and the plan was to crash the plane into either the White House or the Capitol Building. But 4 American businessmen had other plans. At some point, Todd Beamer made a call to an operator and told her of the situation. He informed her that he and three other passengers were going to attempt to overcome the one hijacker who was guarding them and then get into the cockpit to stop the three others. After asking the operator to recite the Lordís Prayer, Psalm 23, he made the operator promise to call his wife and tell her that he loved her and his two young sons. Shortly after, the operator heard the following chilling words:
ďAre you ready? Letís roll!Ē
The sound of struggle ensued and screams were heard. After that, the phone went dead and minutes later, the plane was reported to have crashed in a Pennsylvanian strip mine, killing all on board.
I can only imagine the first few moments of that scene as the hijackers took over the flight. Todd and the rest must have been terrified as they were herded to the back of the plane and told to call loved ones. Through these phone calls, it is believed that Todd and the others found out that the other hijacked planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and they had to have known that their plane was intended on a similar path of destruction.
Then the true American spirit came out of these men. They secretly formed a plan to overtake their captures, knowing full well that the likely result was going to be a terrifying death. Yet these average American business men who boarded the plane expected the normal boring flight, rose to the occasion. I find this most incredible due to the fact that these were not warriors trained in the art. They had not internalized nor committed to the possibility of death through ideological or patriotic friction. They could not have been readied nor steeled against the reality of what we label ďthe ultimate sacrifice.Ē But with no training, no warning, and no possibility for survival, they accomplished what we as servicemen train years to do: react quickly to a violent and confusing situation.
I like to imagine these four big men coming down the aisle single-file (the only way I see it possible in an airplane). The look in the eye of the hijacker must have been one of disbelief. Why were these Americans not cowering down in the back of the plane? The hijacker must have expected the stereotypical soft Americans they have come to envision us to be but instead, down came four large men with a mission to defy the situation. God forgive me but I really like to fantasize of an initial roundhouse punch to the jaw as their initial greeting for the hijacker.
Sadly, the rest of the story is known. The plane crashed and the lives of all the passengers were lost. But a few things stand out that will live in my memory forever.
These men knew the consequences of their actions but more importantly, knew the consequences of their inaction. They chose the right thing to do and put their fate in the Lordís hands. They gave up the rest of their lives knowing they would miss the moments in their lives that were the only true oneís worth seeing. Their kidís first soccer game. Watching graduation ceremonies and weddings. Hugging grandchildren. They gave this up and much much more so that others would not have to.
Tonight, President Bush addressed the nation and began by recognizing the widow of Todd Beamer. As honored as Lisa Beamer must have been to receive a standing ovation by Congress and the President of the United States, our honor as a Nation was that this pregnant, grieving wife brought herself and her unborn baby to accept our appreciation for Toddís actions.
I have been accused of being a hero of sorts for the service to my country. But my heroes, the very definition I believe, is embodied in Todd, Jeremy, Mark and Lou. I did not know these men but I commend their fathers for a mission accomplished. As a father myself, I can only pray my children some day can so unquestionably demonstrate the true American spirit evident in their actions that horrible day. To these heroes, my sincere prayer is that God Himself welcomes them home.