Twenty years after 9/11, National Review is honoring Thomas Burnett, who died while attempting to retake control of United Airlines Flight 93. The plane had been hijacked by al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001.
Editor’s Note: The following was sent to William F. Buckley Jr. by Thomas Burnett Sr., whose son, Tom, died while attempting to retake control of United Airlines Flight 93 from its al-Qaeda hijackers on September 11, 2001. It first appeared in the Notes & Asides section of National Review’s May 20, 2002, issue. We are reprinting it here in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks, which took place 20 years ago.
Dear Mr. Buckley: On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank you for your tribute to my son Tom [Burnett] in your February 8 letter to subscribers. As a longtime reader and supporter of National Review, I was touched by your account of his heroism on September 11, 2001.
I thought you might find of interest the following account of Tom’s four cell-phone calls from Flight 93 to his wife, Deena, which she reconstructed from memory shortly thereafter.
It shows that Tom was instrumental in informing his fellow passengers of the atrocities that were occurring in New York and at the Pentagon and in leading them to an act of unparalleled sacrifice and courage that saved thousands of lives and spared a great symbol of our democracy from destruction. Their desire to save others’ lives even led them to wait until they were over a rural area before launching their assault on the terrorists.
Tom’s last — and greatest — act was completely in his character as a leader, which he often demonstrated during his short life. With no warning, Tom and the other passengers on Flight 93 were suddenly placed in the vanguard of the War on Terrorism. Facing unfathomable choices, Tom was calm, clear-headed, decisive, and fearless. I can only hope that in the days and years to come, the rest of us live up to the standard of character and heroism he set.
“He died as a hero to millions,” Tom’s longtime friend and fraternity brother Jeff Swanson said. “None of us will likely be in the position in which Tom found himself that morning, so we can’t emulate his last acts, but we can emulate how he lived: with character, courage, spirit, curiosity, integrity, and love.”
Thomas E. Burnett Sr.
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