With the anniversary of 9/11 days away, high school and middle school students mostly too young to remember the terrorist attacks gathered on the aircraft carrier Yorktown and met one woman who will never forget.
Melodie Homer is the widow of LeRoy Homer, co-pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, one of four the planes hijacked and crashed by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001.
“For many of us who experienced that day, the word ‘closure’ doesn’t really exist,” said Homer, who now lives in North Carolina with her children.
In the Yorktown’s theater she talked of her experiences in the years following the attacks that killed her husband and nearly 3,000 others. She recounts how the day unfolded and the aftermath, including the news crews that camped outside her home, and fights over health benefits that Homer said she experienced with United Airlines.
Homer also participated in laying a wreath in Charleston Harbor with the help of local sailors, following a benediction aboard the Yorktown in which the attacks on 9/11 were described by the Rev. Harold Syfrett as a radical Muslim attack on peaceful Christians.
Homer has continued to work as a clinical nurse instructor, and created a foundation in her late husband’s name that provides financial assistance to young people interested in aviation. A number of scholarship recipients since 2003 have gone on to become aviators.
Profits from Homer’s recent memoir “From Where I Stand: Flight #93 Pilot’s Wife Sets the Record Straight” help fund the foundation.
Flight 93 was the last of the four hijacked planes to crash on Sept. 11, 2001, and passengers on board knew from cellphone conversations that other planes had been flown into buildings that morning.
The passengers’ desperate attempt to re-take the cockpit, and the phrase “Let’s roll,” became part of the lore surrounding Flight 93, and Homer believes the actions of the flight officers and crew have been overlooked.
“Everyone thinks they already know the story,” she said Friday.
The terrible events of 9/11 unfolded for Homer, like many people, with growing horror and disbelief. First there were reports that an airplane had struck the World Trade Center in New York at 8:46 a.m., and then on live television a second jumbo jet slammed into the second World Trade Center tower just after 9 a.m.
By that time a third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, had been hijacked, as the 9/11 Commission Report determined. The report provides the following details:
On Flight 93, LeRoy Homer and pilot Jason Dahl were still in control of the plane and proceeding normally when they received a dire warning at 9:24 a.m. from a United dispatcher; “Beware any cockpit intrusion — Two a/c (aircraft) hit World Trade Center.”
The pilot asked the dispatcher to confirm the message. Two minutes later, the hijackers attacked as the plane cruised at 35,000 feet above Ohio. Someone, Homer or Dahl, broadcast a “Mayday” message and there were sounds of a struggle.
It was just before 9:30 a.m.
Minutes later the other hijacked plane still airborne, American 77, would slam into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., killing all 64 people on the plane and 125 on the ground.
On United 93, passengers and crew were on their cellphones, learning of the attacks. They provided details of their hijacking, one reported that two people — possibly the pilot and co-pilot — were on the cabin floor injured or dead, and one caller reported that the passengers and surviving crew members took a vote and decided to attempt to retake the plane.
Following a six-minute assault on the cockpit door, with the hijackers throwing the plane into dips and turns to throw the passengers off balance, the hijackers apparently decided to crash the plane, shouting “Allah is the greatest” as it went down.
“With the sounds of the passenger counterattack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes’ flying time from Washington, D.C.,” the report said.
“I think it could easily be argued that the fight against terrorists began that day,” Patriot’s Point Executive Director Mac Burdette told the audience in the theater aboard the Yorktown, which is part of the Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
“Since that day, we have pretty much been in constant war overseas,” he said.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.