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date: 16 September 2019

Beamer, Todd Morganfree

(24 November 1968–11 September 2001)
  • Bruce J. Evensen

Beamer, Todd Morgan (24 November 1968–11 September 2001), passenger aboard United Airlines Flight 93, was born in Flushing, Michigan, a small town northwest of Flint, the son of David Beamer, a sales representative for IBM, and Peggy Jackson Beamer, a muralist. Todd and his two sisters, Melissa and Michele, were raised “with a strong biblical value system and work ethic” ( Let's Roll, p. 16). The family relocated to Poughkeepsie, New York, and then to Glen Ellyn, Illinois, a suburb west of Chicago, where David worked at Amdahl, a computer technology company.

Todd attended Wheaton Christian Grammar School, where he played baseball, basketball, and soccer. Todd moved on to Wheaton Christian High School, becoming class vice president in his junior year. He spent his senior year at Los Gatos High School, just south of San Jose, California, when his father was promoted to vice president of Amdahl's California headquarters. Beamer attended Fresno State University, where he majored in physical therapy and participated in the school's baseball program, but injuries suffered in an automobile accident ended his hopes of playing on Fresno's Division I baseball team.

Beamer transferred to Wheaton College, one of the nation's leading Christian liberal arts schools, where he first majored in medicine before settling on business. At Wheaton, Beamer played baseball and as a senior became captain of the basketball team. After graduating, Beamer worked for Wilson Sporting Goods and studied nights, earning an M.B.A. from Chicago's DePaul University in June 1993. He married Lisa Brosious on 14 May 1994 in Peekskill, New York. The couple had three children.

Todd and Lisa moved to Plainsboro, New Jersey, where Todd went to work as a field marketing representative for Oracle Corporation, a computer software company. Months later, he was promoted to account manager. Todd and Lisa formed a tight circle of friends through the Princeton Alliance Church and worked in youth ministry. At that time, Todd wrote a list of what he wanted to accomplish in his life, which included “controlling my destiny and environment” by “flying below the radar screen” in order to “arrive at the road's end with satisfaction” (Let's Roll, pp. 100–102). In 2000 the Beamers moved into their dream house, in Cranbury, New Jersey. In June 2001 the couple learned that their third child was due in January of the following year. That September they celebrated with a week in Rome with other Oracle families. They returned home mid-afternoon on 10 September 2001.

An Early Flight

Todd Beamer awakened at 5:45 the next morning. He was scheduled to take an early flight out of Newark to make a 1:00 P.M. meeting with representatives of the Sony Corporation in San Francisco. United Flight 93 was scheduled to depart at 8:00 A.M., but the Boeing 757 didn't take off until forty-two minutes later because of runway traffic delays. There were seven crew members, five flight attendants, and thirty-seven passengers on the plane, including four Middle Eastern men. Just six minutes later, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower. On the clear day the smoke could be seen from the cockpit of Flight 93. Fifteen minutes later, at 9:03 A.M., as United Flight 175 blasted into the South Tower, Beamer's flight was climbing to cruising altitude, heading west over New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.

At 9:25 A.M., Flight 93 was above eastern Ohio, and its pilot questioned Cleveland controllers about an alert that had been flashed on his cockpit computer screen to “beware of cockpit intrusion.” Three minutes later, Cleveland controllers could hear screams over the cockpit's open mike. Moments later, hijackers, led by twenty-seven-year-old Ziad Samir Jarrah, a Lebanese man with a pilot's license, took over the plane's controls, disengaged the autopilot, and told passengers in heavily accented English, “Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb board” (Vulliamy, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/dec/02/september11.terrorism1). Beamer and the other passengers were herded into the back of the plane. Several made phone calls. Passengers were told by loved ones that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. At 9:45 A.M., FBI agents listened in as Beamer told the GTE Airfone supervisor Lisa Jefferson that hijackers had taken over his plane. Two had knives, and one appeared to have a bomb strapped around his waist. The curtain between first class and second class had been drawn. Beamer could see two people on the floor; a flight attendant had told him they were dead.

“Let's Roll”

At first Beamer had thought to call his wife but didn't want to worry her. He asked Jefferson if she knew what the hijackers wanted. She didn't. “We're going down! We're going down!” Beamer exclaimed over the phone (Alderson and Bisset, “The Extraordinary Last Calls of Flight UA93”). The hijackers were veering the plane sharply south. Along with the passengers Tom Burnett, Jeremy Glick, Mark Bingham, Lou Nacke, Rich Guadagno, Alan Beaven, Honor Elizabeth Wainio, Linda Gronlund, and William Cashman and the flight attendants Sandra Bradshaw and Cee Cee Ross-Lyles, Beamer plotted what to do. A vote was taken. Passengers planned to storm the cockpit and take over the plane. Beamer said the Lord's Prayer over the phone with Jefferson and told her, “If I don't make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them.” Jefferson could hear muffled voices and Beamer's voice clearly answering, “Are you ready? Okay. Let's roll!” (Breslau, “The Final Moments of Flight 93”).

When the voice data recorder aboard Flight 93 was recovered and published in the 9/11 Commission Report, it revealed pounding and crashing sounds against the cockpit door and shouts and screams in English. “Let's get them!” a passenger cries. A hijacker shouts, “Allah akbar!” (God is great). Jarrah repeatedly pitched the plane to knock passengers off their feet. But voices in English are heard shouting, “In the cockpit. If we don't, we'll die.” At 10:02 A.M., a hijacker orders, “Pull it down! Pull it down!” The 9/11 Commission later reported that the control wheel of Flight 93 was turned hard to the right. The airplane rolled on its back and plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles an hour. The plane was was twenty minutes' flying time from its suspected target, the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Vice President Dick Cheney told reporters that he had no doubt the passengers on Flight 93 had helped prevent an attack on Washington. Cheney acknowledged that President George W. Bush had given the order to fire on Flight 93 if it had continued its flight path to Washington.

Courage Lauded

In an address to a joint session of Congress and the American people on 20 September 2001, with Lisa Beamer present, President Bush declared that freedom was at war with fear and praised “the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground—passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer.” In an 8 November address from the World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia, Bush repeated Beamer's now famous words, saying, “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!”

When she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Morgan Kay Beamer, on 11 January 2002, Lisa Beamer was known nationally as the widow of an American hero. She cowrote a best-selling book on her life with Todd Beamer and the aftermath of his death with Ken Abraham, titled Let's Roll! Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage (2002). The book's royalties went to establish the nonprofit Todd M. Beamer Foundation, to counsel children who have experienced trauma. A post office in Cranbury, New Jersey; a neighborhood park in Fresno; a high school in Federal Way, Washington; and a student center at Wheaton College were named in Beamer's honor. And for years afterward, movies, T-shirts, television shows, and speeches remembered Beamer's words as an affirmation of American grit and determination in the face of daunting challenge.

Bibliography

For more information, see Lisa Beamer's book on her marriage to Todd Beamer as well as her interview on Dateline, NBC, 20 Aug. 2002. Beamer plays a prominent part in accounts of Flight 93 written by Jon Barrett, Hero of Flight 93: Mark Bingham (2002); Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back (2003); and Lisa D. Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks, Called: “Hello, My Name Is Mrs. Jefferson. I Understand Your Plane is Being Hijacked—” 9:45 A.M., Flight 93, September 11, 2001 (2006). Beamer's final phone call is the subject of Jim McKinnon, “The Phone Line from Flight 93 Was Still Open When a GTE Operator Heard Todd Beamer Say: ‘Are You Guys Ready? Let's Roll,’” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 16 Sept. 2001; and Wes Smith, “Operator Can't Forget Haunting Cries from Flight 93,” Orlando Sentinel, 10 Sept. 2002. See also “‘Let's Roll,’ Flight 93 Victim Heard to Say before Crash,” WTAE-TV, 16 Sept. 2001. Beamer's actions on Flight 93 are described by Jaxon Van Derbeken, “Bound by Fate, Determination: The Final Hours of the Passengers Aboard S.F.-bound Flight 93,” San Francisco Chronicle, 17 Sept. 2001.

International coverage of Beamer's heroism and that of the Flight 93 passengers is found in Andrew Alderson and Susan Bisset, “The Extraordinary Last Calls of Flight UA93,” The Telegraph, 20 Oct. 2001; and Ed Vulliamy, “The Real Story of Flight 93: ‘Let's Roll …’” The Guardian, 2 Dec. 2001, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/dec/02/september11.terrorism1.

Beamer's critical role in the passenger counteroffensive is described in Karen Breslau, Eleanor Clift, and Evan Thomas, “The Real Story of Flight 93,” Newsweek, 3 Dec. 2001; and Karen Breslau, “The Final Moments of United Flight 93,” Newsweek, 22 Sept. 2001. Beamer's inspirational role in the War on Terror is described by Charlotte Faltermayer, “The Team Player,” Time, 23 Dec. 2001.

Criticism over the use of Beamer's comments for fighting the War on Terror appear in George Vecsey, “Sports of the Times: ‘Let's Roll’ Demeans Real Heroes,” New York Times, 20 Aug. 2002; and Sue Chan, “The Marketing of ‘Let's Roll,’” CBS News, 4 Sept. 2002.

Scholarly reflection on the media's appropriation of Flight 93 appear in Diane Ainsworth, “Finding Words for September's Tragedy,” Berkeleyan, 6 Mar. 2002; Alasdair Spark and Elizabeth Stuart, “Welcome Aboard: Faith, Life, and Death in United 93,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 15 (Spring 2007); Susan Faludi, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (2007); Cynthia Weber, “Popular Visual Language as Global Communication: The Remediation of United Airlines Flight 93,” Review of International Studies 34 (2008): 137–153.