I found this tribute to my fellow crew members who lost their lives on the clear cool September morning. The author was a fellow UAL pilot, Jay Heppner. I could not have written a more poignant salute to our fallen airline comrades!
September 11, 2001
On a clear, warm September morning 11 years ago, our world and sense of security forever changed. The images of aircraft – our aircraft used as weapons against us — flying into buildings, the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the fire pluming from the Pentagon, and a southwestern Pennsylvania farm field will forever be etched in our minds.
Each anniversary of 9/11, we recall the loss of friends, fellow employees and family members who died on that horrific day. We’re also reminded how that day impacted our sense of safety and control, two components of our work lives all airline pilots hold sacred.We all continue to feel the effects of 9/11. Our airline has gone through a bankruptcy and a merger. Many of us continue to deal with the lingering psychological effects of anger and other emotions. Yet, despite these challenges, it is important for us to remember what we have overcome. Our will to fight and stand up to those who would do us harm, our dedication and commitment to making air transportation as safe and secure as possible, and our continued belief in a free and open society have never been stronger. These characteristics – characteristics that make us unique – have sustained us during this difficult time.
“Even the smallest act of service, the simplest act of kindness, is a way to honor those we lost, a way to reclaim that spirit of unity that followed 9/11.” -President Barack Obama
As United pilots, we all experienced a personal loss with the death of four of our fellow pilots 11 years ago: Captain Victor Saracini and First Officer Michael Horrocks of Flight 175; and Captain Jason Dahl and First Officer LeRoy Homer of Flight 93. The sacrifices of these brave aviators, together with the crewmembers on American Airlines Flights 11 and 77, serve as reminders that we cannot afford to be complacent or stagnant in the upkeep of our national security and aviation safety.On September 11, 2001, each United pilot inherited the responsibility of carrying on the legacies of Captain Saracini, Captain Dahl, First Officer Horrocks and First Officer Homer. Each time we enter the cockpit, our devotion to safety and professionalism honors their memories and lives up to the examples they set. It is our duty to continue carrying their light and honoring them with our service.
Let us all pause today to acknowledge the sacrifices of our fallen brethren and to reaffirm our collective vow to never forget the following men and women who lost their lives 11 years ago today:
United Flight 93:
Captain Jason Dahl (a personal friend of yours truly, Captain Blowdri)
First Officer LeRoy Homer, Jr.
Flight Attendant Lorraine Bay
Flight Attendant Sandra Bradshaw
Flight Attendant Wanda Green
Flight Attendant CeeCee Lyles
Flight Attendant Deborah Welsh
United Flight 175:
Captain Victor Saracini
First Officer Michael Horrocks
Flight Attendant Robert Fangman
Flight Attendant Amy Jarret (another friend)
Flight Attendant Amy King (another friend)
Flight Attendant Kathryn Laborie
Flight Attendant Alfred Marchand
Flight Attendant Michael Tarrou (another friend & Amy’s fiancé)
Flight Attendant Alicia Titus
Customer Service Representative Marianne MacFarlane
Customer Service Representative Jesus Sanchez
American Flight 11:
Captain John Ogonowski
First Officer Thomas McGuinness
Flight Attendant Barbara Arestegui
Flight Attendant Jeffrey Collman
Flight Attendant Sara Low
Flight Attendant Karen Martin
Flight Attendant Kathleen Nicosia
Flight Attendant Betty Ong
Flight Attendant Jean Roger
Flight Attendant Dianne Snyder
Flight Attendant Madeline Sweeney
American Flight 77:
Captain Charles Burlingame
First Officer David Charlebois
Flight Attendant Michele Heidenberger
Flight Attendant Jennifer Lewis
Flight Attendant Kenneth Lewis
Flight Attendant Renee May
Every since May 16, 2010, when my world was turned upside down with the events that played out at 36,000 feet, I have had many opportunities to reflect back on my 61 years. The real kicker to this whole thing occurred on June 30, 2012, that was the end of era for me. That day I was thrust into the role of joining my siblings as the new patriarchs of our branch of the Hammack family. That was the day that my Mom, Ola Mae Hammack, answered the call from God to return home to be with my Dad, my older brother, and the rest of her family!
I have now had a couple of months since then to reflect, to actually ponder, and to evaluate what I have done with my life.
If I am going to be forthright, I must evaluate my heritage. I come from a very hard-working, but extremely dirt poor, early days, 1930’s and 40’s, migrant farm working parents. Both Mom and Dad were not afraid of hard work, in fact, that is all that they knew.
About the time that WWII broke out, Mom and Dad settled in San Pablo, CA, an east SF Bay community that housed the Kaiser shipyards. Those shipyards built US Liberty ships that transported soldiers and sailors to fight the War. However, that was a few years before I made my entrance into this world!
As I progressed throughout school, there was never any doubt that I would go to college. That realization came to me at an early age. I saw how hard, and what long hours that my Dad put in on a daily basis, that I figured out that I wanted to find a skill that would allow me to “work smart”, not necessarily hard! That skill would require a college education, not doubt!
However, I was initially not accepted into Fresno State. I had missed the mathematical formula by just 2 points! I made an appointment to talk to the Dean of Admissions, to discuss my application. A few days after the interview I was notified that Fresno State would make an exception, and therefore, allow me to enroll for the fall semester of 1969. What a stroke of good luck!
In the beginning of my sophomore year at Fresno State, my college deferment was revoke because I lacked the required amount of units. Remember that was 1970, the height of the Viet Nam War. Knowing that my draft lottery number was extremely low, I looked into USAF ROTC, which was on campus. After taking all the aptitude tests and the physical, it was determined that I was qualified to enroll in USAF Pilot Training after graduation, if would commit to the program. So in the fall fo 1971 I signed the necessary paperwork to enroll into USAF ROTC as a pilot candidate. Luck smiled down on me once again!
Air Force pilot training was the single most difficult thing that I have ever attempted. There was a time that I was ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat, however, I just couldn’t succumb! I remembered all the trials and tribulations that my parents had overcome in their life, and I just refused to let myself fail. I just dug deep for some strength to get through this program. I guess that I just got lucky again!
My USAF career was mostly uneventful, except for the April 1975 Saigon Evacuation. That was the first time that I witnessed what 37mm artillery looked like exploding around my aircraft in the air! I didn’t take any direct hits, I guess that I was just lucky that way!
During my nine-year tenure at Eastern Air Lines I had one close call. We had a landing gear, the nose gear, that refused to extend and had to land the plane with the two mains down and the nose gear still firmly in the nose gear wheel well. It was a somewhat harrowing experience for me, a fairly new B-727 copilot! Nobody was injured. Once again luck prevailed!
In my 21 year flying career with United, it too was mostly uneventful. I say mostly uneventful until May 16, 2010. If you didn’t read the link at the beginning of the article, here is the link to my career ending Sunday night flight. You might take a few minutes to read the first hand experience of what a cockpit fire is really like from the Captain’s point of view! I now, more than ever, really understand just how lucky that I was that night!
But I have to say that, in reflection, the real force behind my drive to succeed was my Mom and Dad. They were always there when I needed them. They were there to catch me when I fell, and gave my support that things would always get better. They never judged me for my failures and shortcomings. I could have picked a wealthier set of parents, but I could never have picked a more supportive and loving Mom and Dad. I guess that I am just lucky that way!
Now I have two great grandchildren, Cole and Hannah, that are the light of my life. I guess that I am just lucky that way!
I’m not saying that I’m something special! I am just luck that way!
Watch and listen to the lyrics of Joe Walsh’s explanation. I couldn’t have put it any more succinct than he did in this song!