At a memorial honoring one person who lost his life in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Naperville leaders and residents gathered Wednesday night to hear the story of another who perished that historic day.
The Cmdr. Dan Shanower Memorial was the backdrop for a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the attacks, featuring remarks about the life and heroism of Wheaton College graduate Todd Beamer, who helped rally passengers aboard a hijacked plane and uttered the famous phrase "Let's roll."
Roger Burgess, Beamer's former teacher and coach at Wheaton Christian Grammar School in Winfield, took the stage after ceremonial songs, bell-ringing and flag-lowering to tell what Beamer was like as a boy and how his faith allowed him to help prevent United Airlines Flight 93 from crashing into its target in Washington, D.C.
"He was a quiet young man with an inner strength," Burgess said about Beamer. "He was a person of character who knew what he stood for."
Beamer was a star basketball player and Burgess' leading scorer his seventh grade year. By the time 2001 rolled around, he was a married father of two living in New Jersey and working for computer software company Oracle. Just returned from a vacation to Italy with his pregnant wife, Beamer was headed to San Francisco on the morning of Sept. 11.
"Todd went to work that day a free man and became a soldier," Burgess said. "The idea of using a plane as a loaded missile was foreign to our thinking."
Beamer placed one of at least two dozen phone calls made from the hijacked flight and dialed an operator in Oak Brook who heard him explain what was happening and how the passengers planned to thwart the terrorist plan. Before hanging up, Beamer recited a psalm, the Lord's Prayer and asked Jesus for help. Burgess said the operator heard him say to other passengers "Are you ready? OK. Let's roll" before the line went dead.
Burgess said the message from Beamer's actions is everyone must fight to protect American freedoms be prepared to face eternity at any time. He encouraged the audience of a few hundred along both banks of the DuPage River to enjoy, appreciate and love their families.
Naperville's ceremony was meant to be an event of honor, hope and renewal in remembrance of the 2,996 people who died in the terrorist attacks, organizers with the Naperville Exchange Club said. Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said first responders and citizens nationwide have been made stronger by pulling together to react to the tragedy, and police Chief Robert Marshall listed some of the actions his department has taken to ensure the "unprecedented shock and suffering" of Sept. 11 never happens again.
"As a city, we gather to show love and deep sympathy for the tragic event that took place on Sept. 11, 2001," Naperville Mayor George Pradel said. "It's history and we need to remember that day very tenderly. It'll remain with us the rest of our lives."