'Let's roll': Todd Beamer's father on the valiant fight for Flight 93
His son's last known words have been stamped on fire trucks and police cars, hockey helmets and the nose of an F-16 jet.
A Washington state school that has no affiliation to Todd Beamer bears his name and adopted as its motto the phrase he uttered on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Are you guys ready?" an air phone operator heard Beamer, a Wheaton College graduate, ask his fellow passengers on United Flight 93 just before they revolted against al-Qaida hijackers that morning 20 years ago.
Beamer's father, David, sometimes comes across the same two words on a license plate. He'll leave a note of thanks on the windshield of the car because whoever owns it remembers his son's resolve.
"It was a call to action, to do the right thing," David Beamer said. "And namely to fight back, to launch this successful counterattack."
The four hijackers on Flight 93 likely intended to crash the Boeing 757 into the U.S. Capitol or the White House, the 9/11 Commission later determined. As passengers stormed the cockpit, the hijackers tried to knock them off balance by steering the plane sharply to the left and right.
A cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of fighting, shouting, breaking glass and plates. Still, the passengers continued their assault.
At 10:03 a.m., the plane hurtled, almost upside-down, into a field in western Pennsylvania at 580 mph, killing all 33 passengers and seven crew members on board and leaving a crater of scorched earth some 20 minutes of flying time from its presumed target in Washington.
Then in California, David Beamer drove coast to coast -- airlines were grounded -- to a New Jersey church for the memorial service for his 32-year-old son. During that race across the country, he learned of the in-flight call between his son and GTE Airfone supervisor Lisa Jefferson.
Here was an "independent ear witness" recalling the final moments of his life, giving the Beamers some answers that have eluded so many other 9/11 families, affirming what they already knew about their loved one.
Todd Beamer, strong, competitive, athletic, traveling on business to San Francisco, told Jefferson of the plan to rush the cockpit. He asked her to recite The Lord's Prayer with him. He told her to tell his wife, Lisa, pregnant with their third child, he loved his family.
"That was a blessing for the whole country," his father said. He counts other, seemingly random blessings from that morning.
Flight 93 left the ground from New Jersey's Newark airport at 8:42 a.m., delayed by a pivotal 25 minutes.
"Even though it was a clear day, sunny day, air traffic was such that United Flight 93 took off late," David Beamer said. "That disrupted the timing."
Hijackers seized control 46 minutes after takeoff. Because of the late start, passengers would be able to learn in calls from the plane that two other hijacked jetliners had already slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
"They came to understand this was not a normal hijacking," David Beamer said. "'We're the next guided missile,' so that was certainly a blessing because they had the opportunity to do something."
He clings to those blessings, his son's Christian faith and his own, to survive the unbearable.
"We have our hope and assurance and comfort in the fact that Todd Beamer's soul is in heaven. He's doing fine," his father said from his home in Michigan, near Todd's big sister, Melissa. "He's had nothing but good days in the last 20 years."
20 years later
David Beamer and his wife, Peggy, have paid tribute to Todd and the other passengers at the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But they've never visited on 9/11. They've mostly spent the day, quietly, by themselves.
On the 20th anniversary, Beamer's parents will make an exception.
They've been invited by a minister and longtime friend to a remembrance ceremony in Cashmere, Washington, a small town that's built a "Spirit of America" Sept. 11 memorial.
"It's pretty special that they've done," David Beamer said. "It's obviously a special group of Americans who live in that beautiful little town."
On Sept. 13, the Beamers will attend a benefit golf outing named for their son to support scholarships for Wheaton Academy students and to reunite with educators who influenced Todd Beamer's formative years.
"It's a chance for me to come back and see some old friends, thank some old friends and to encourage parents who are making sacrifices for their kids to get that kind of education," David Beamer said.
The sold-out event, held at an Aurora country club, raises close to $200,000 each year, said Gene Frost, executive director of the Wheaton Academy Foundation.
Frost coached a freshman Todd Beamer on the school's sophomore soccer team. In their biggest game, he stole the ball and passed it to a teammate for the winning goal against York High School.
"He was the engine behind where we went and how we got there," Frost said.
He draws parallels from Todd Beamer the soccer player to Todd Beamer the national hero.
"I think he got knocked down and I think he got back up. I think he put a team together," Frost said. "I think he knew what he had to do."
He sees a strong resemblance in Todd Beamer's three grown children, David, Drew and Morgan, born four months after their father's death.
"They're doing just, just fine," their grandfather said. "And Lisa has done a terrific job as a single mom raising them to be the kind of people that they are and they will be."
'I love you Beam'
David Beamer saw his son for the last time two weeks before he died.
The family had celebrated the 60th wedding anniversary of David Beamer's parents in Potomac, Maryland. Todd and his wife, Lisa, were about to hit the road for the drive back to New Jersey in Sunday afternoon traffic on Interstate 95.
"My last memory on this side of heaven with Todd was we did what we always did: I reached up, and we had a big hug," his dad remembered. "And I said, 'I love you, Beam. Drive carefully. See you later.'"
That memory inspires his fatherly advice to generations growing up after 9/11.
Hug the people close to you "every chance you get."