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September 2017 Heroes of the Month: The Courageous Victims, Families, First Responders, and Cleanup Workers of 9/11

On this 16th anniversary of 9/11, I am honoring two very special people from the many on Flight 93. I am also highlighting the ongoing and tragic health problems affecting the first responders and construction workers who helped clean up the destruction at the World Trade Center. My purpose in honoring them is to remind everyone of the human toll 9/11 has had on these heroes and their families.

Flight 93: Jason Dahl and Todd Beamer

The courage and fortitude of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 has been the subject of books, a TV movie, and since 2015, a national memorial where the plane went down near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Jason Dahl was the Captain of Flight 93. He was 43 years old. His love of flying was something special: he joined the civil air patrol in San Jose California at the age of 13 and flew solo three years later, before he had a driver’s license. He graduated from San Jose State in 1980 with a degree in aeronautical engineering and was employed by our close family friends Ron and Pam Nelson as the pilot of their Cessna 421 until he joined United in 1985. He quickly rose through the ranks at United to become a captain of the Boeing 757. In recognition of his exceptional flying skills, he was also involved in training and re-certifying United’s pilots. Jason was on Flight 93 because he had traded assignments with another pilot so that he could take his wife Sandy to London the following weekend for their wedding anniversary. Jason and his copilot were brutally murdered by the hijackers, who cut their throats while they were strapped into their seats.

What followed for his son Matt and his wife Sandy was made all the more difficult by his exceptional love for them as a father and husband. At his funeral, Matt talked about his dad reading Dr Seuss books to him at bedtime, and his neighbors talked about how he loved to dote on Sandy, who also worked at United as a flight attendant. Jason spent hours working on house renovations that Sandy wanted and always had a meal ready for her when she came home from traveling for work. When he wasn’t spending time with his family, he would take people on tours of United’s training facilities in Denver. He regularly worked with the Boy Scouts.

After Jason died, Sandy started a scholarship fund in Jason’s honor for students interested in an aviation career at his alma mater, San Jose State. The program subsequently expanded nationwide. Unfortunately, Sandy could not overcome the sadness of his loss, and she died in 2012 at the age of 52. The real cause of death was a broken heart. It is somehow fitting that Sandy died on Memorial Day weekend. Below is a picture of Sandy preparing to take a ride in an F-16 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado in 2004: it was something Jason had long wanted to do.

Sandy Dahl, wife of United Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl, preparing to take a ride in an F-16 at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., in 2004. (Photo by JOHN LEYBA/THE DENVER POST VIA AP)

After Sandy’s death, Patrick White, the President of The Families of Flight 93, praised her, saying that “Sandy’s courage picked up where her husbands left off. Her dedication to completing the Flight 93 National Memorial as a way to honor her husband’s heroic actions on 9/11, and those of his fellow crew members and passengers, is a significant part of her legacy.”

I was reminded again of Todd Beamer’s very special heroism on Flight 93 when Julie and I visited the National 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center site in New York City. In a room dedicated to those on Flight 93, Todd’s Rolex watch is exhibited as it was found at the crash site, with the time of impact recorded on the hour and minute hands. It is hard to imagine how the watch survived the impact. Todd will forever be honored for his courage in forming a group with Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick to take control of the plane back from the hijackers, and for his last recorded words, “Let’s roll.”

At the time he died Todd was a very successful sales rep for Oracle and was traveling on business to California. Todd and his wife Lisa met at Wheaton College and had been married 7 years with two small children, David and Drew. Lisa was pregnant with their daughter Morgan at the time of his death. He was, by all accounts, an exceptional person. He and Lisa taught Sunday school together, and worked in the youth ministry. Todd played on the church softball team. The day before Flight 93 he had returned from Italy on a wedding anniversary trip with Lisa that he won for being a top sales performer.

I will never forget a very pregnant Lisa, after 9/11 when air service was re-started, taking a United flight to Seattle as a symbol of her determination not to let people give in to fear of terrorism. She gave birth to Morgan four months later. Lisa lost her own father when she was 15 and has done a remarkable job of raising her children without their father.

Lisa never remarried and the children are now all young adults. David grew up and went on to play football at his father’s alma mater, Wheaton.

The Tragic Health Problems for First Responders and Construction Workers at The World Trade Center Site

When the World Trade Center towers came down, the dust from the collapsing towers was extremely toxic. Over 2,500 contaminates were eventually identified in the dust and at the site. Few people outside New York City even know that while the cleanup was underway, there were fires burning at the site for three months. The health problems subsequently experienced by both the first responders who were at the scene that day and all of the many construction workers who worked for over a year to clean up the site have been severe. The problem started with the fact that none of them had appropriate respirators to protect their lungs.

A study of 5000 rescue workers in 2010 found that all of the workers studied had impaired lung function. 30-40% reported persistent symptoms and 1000 of the group were on permanent respiratory disability. By that time, 75 had also died from rare blood cell cancers, and 55 from lung and other cancers. Over 200 first responders and workers in all had died. The loss of life has continued and increased in severity in the seven years since then. The health problems have also now spread to people living and working in lower Manhattan and even to nearby areas in Brooklyn.

Numerous lawsuits have been filed, and Congress has debated creating and funding a compensation fund for the victims. Jon Stewart, the former host of The Daily Show, has become an unofficial spokesman and very high-profile advocate for their cause. Along the way, many politicians have been criticized for downplaying or denying the health problems created by the disaster at The World Trade Center, including EPA Director Christie Todd Whitman, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and President George W. Bush. What really matters now is that our leaders fully acknowledge the tragedy afflicting these heroes of 9/11 and that proper medical and financial assistance be provided to their families.

The human toll from 9/11 will continue for a very long time: for the 3478 families who lost their loved ones at Ground Zero that day, for the families of Flight 93, for the firefighters and construction workers who worked at Ground Zero in the aftermath and for their families, and for those who lived and worked in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.

While our country has for the most part recovered from the horror of 9/11, we cannot and must not forget or ignore those in need who have suffered so much. They are all patriots and they deserve our gratitude and our help.
— Jim

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