Wiliam P. Warford

‘You ready? OK, Let’s roll!”

Those words, spoken by Todd Beamer to AT&T Airfone operator Lisa Jefferson, ought to be remembered by every American this week.

We have reached the point where not a single minor was born before the al-Qaida terrorists attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001 — everyone born before that day is now an adult, at least 18 years of age.

It’s important to teach the young people about that day, to make sure they know what happened, and, without frightening them, try to convey a sense of what it felt like.

For kids today it’s like World War II for my generation. Born well after it was over, we forget that when the war was happening, no one knew how it would turn out.

No one knew on 9/11, as report after report rolled in, how bad it was going to get. Did the terrorists have three planes? Four planes? A dozen planes?

Were the planes just a prelude to a massive nuclear “dirty bomb” attack? Or an attack on our power grid? Or an anthrax attack?

No one knew.

Those of us old enough remember the images of the smoke billowing from the first tower and the shock of seeing the second plane enter screen right on our televisions and crash into the second tower.

We remember the scenes from the Pentagon, and ultimately the empty field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the final resting place of the heroes of United Flight 93.

Unlike some of the other heroes of that day, no television cameras witnessed the heroics of the passengers of Flight 93. But we do have the voice recordings.

They made movies about Flight 93, and Neil Young wrote a song about the passengers. The human drama, the pathos, the courage; all of it is so compelling. As Young put it, how could you not write about it?

Because their flight sat on the runway for 40 minutes (it was scheduled to go from Newark to San Francisco), the passengers knew about the other planes.

After their aircraft was hijacked and pilots killed, passengers were able to reach relatives first by Airfone and then by cellphone when they reached a lower altitude.

So they knew they were bound for certain death in Washington — with the terrorists intending to crash into either the Capitol or the White House.

Thus, they were the first ones with a chance to fight back. And fight back they did.

The terrorists had no way of knowing, but they picked a bad flight to hijack. Among 33 passengers were several big, strong, athletic men.

Jeremy Glick was a national judo champion, Mark Bingham played rugby, Tom Burnett played quarterback in college, Louis Nacke was a weightlifter and William Cashman a former paratrooper.

If anyone could break into the cockpit and kill or incapacitate the terrorists, it was these men. And there was a licensed pilot on board. He would at least have a chance of making a landing.

Todd Beamer talked to Lisa Jefferson, the telephone operator, for 13 minutes. He told her the passengers took a vote and decided to rush the cockpit.

He asked her to say the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 (“Though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I fear no evil”) with him and several of the other passengers.

As Neil Young sings in the chorus of “Let’s Roll,” his Flight 93 tribute: “Time is runnin’ out. Let’s roll.”

They did roll. According to cockpit recordings, they did overpower the hijackers and burst into the cockpit, but the hijackers put the plane into a nose-dive and it crashed into the field at some 580 mph.

They could not quite save themselves, but they saved countless other lives. They stopped the terrorists.

And they should never be forgotten.

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