The years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have seen a lot of changes in the cultural fabric of the United States and in the armed forces. With the 20-year anniversary of that tragic day, it’s important for us to look back and remember some of the heroes that emerged from the ashes of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93. One of those heroes was a civilian named Todd Beamer.
Beamer died when United 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But his memory carried on, giving the U.S. military, American police officers, and firefighters around the world a new battle cry: “Let’s Roll.”
In many ways, 32-year-old Todd Beamer was the quintessential American. He was born in Michigan to middle-class parents who moved around the country wherever their work took the family. He was a Christian and an athlete who studied business in college. When he graduated, he got a good job with a major corporation and taught Sunday school in his spare time.
On Sept. 11, 2001, his work was taking him from his home in New Jersey to meet with clients in San Francisco. United flight 93 was only reaching cruising altitude when the first two planes hit the Twin Towers. His flight was just entering Pennsylvania. A few minutes later, the plane’s pilots received a message from the Cleveland tower: “beware of cockpit intrusion.”
A few minutes after that, hijackers took control of United 93 and herded everyone into the back of the plane. With the plane’s passengers secured, the hijackers took the aircraft to a new heading: straight for Washington, D.C.
Todd Beamer: ‘Let’s Roll.’
As people on board waited to learn their fate, some of the passengers tried to sneak phone calls to loved ones using air phones, which were widely available at the time. Through these secret calls, they all learned that planes had struck New York and, by then, the Pentagon in Washington.
When they first started attempting to make the calls, however, they didn’t get right through to their loved ones at home. They were sent to United customer service representatives, and the FBI was listening in. Todd Beamer, cool in the face of danger, informed the FBI that terrorists were carrying knives and one was potentially strapped with a bomb.
When the plane suddenly veered into a turn, the passengers decided they had enough. Beamer, along with passengers Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett, and Jeremy Glick formed a plan to recapture the aircraft by overwhelming the hijackers and then flying into the ground if they had to, knowing this meant they would likely all die.
Beamer told United representative, Lisa Jefferson, of their plan, during the call. He then asked her to tell his family that he loved them. After a few minutes of muffled voices, Jefferson heard Beamer tell an unknown passenger, “Are you ready? Okay. Let’s roll.”
At around 10:02 in the morning, a little more than an hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City, United flight 93 crashed into an empty field in Pennsylvania at more than 500 miles per hour. Everyone on board died in the crash.
In the days that followed, Beamer’s words and the heroics of the passengers aboard flight 93 were revealed to news outlets across the country. Beamer’s words, “Let’s Roll,” became a rallying cry for the American people, not only in the face of terrorism but in the face of fear itself. The words would soon be found on fire trucks, morale patches, and murals from coast to coast. The U.S. Air Force put the words on at least one aircraft in every squadron.
President George W. Bush even referenced Beamer and his words in the 2002 State of the Union Address:
“Some of our greatest moments have been acts of courage for which no one could have been prepared. But we have our marching orders. My fellow Americans, let’s roll.” He would use them again in the 2002 State of the Union address: “For too long our culture has said, ‘If it feels good, do it.’ Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: ‘Let’s roll.'”
And we rolled on and on and on……….