I have a pair of pilot’s wings.
In a long-ago time, airlines actually gave out little trinkets and toys to children during flights. Kids could receive little metal “junior pilot” or “junior stewardess” wings, as a souvenir of a successful flight.
I wear them all day.
I didn’t receive these wings as a junior flyer; heck, my first time on an airplane didn’t happen until I was at least 30.
But I wear these wings with pride today. With pride and with reverence.
One pair is branded with an old-style United Airlines decal, and are stamped “Junior Pilot.” The other pair has a vintage 1980’s-era American Airlines logo, and says “Junior Stewardess.”
I wear them in memory and in honor of four groups of passengers, who woke up one sunny morning, checked their travel schedules, and boarded some planes.
American Airlines Flight 11, Boston to Los Angeles.
American Airlines Flight 77, Washington DC to Los Angeles.
United Airlines Fight 175, Boston to Los Angeles.
United Airlines Flight 93, Newark to San Francisco.
The moment those four groups of passengers boarded their planes… and the moment the pilots and flight attendants were cleared for takeoff…
They could not return to safety. They had no idea that their planned flights would turn into instruments of death and destruction.
They had no idea that trained assassins under the tutelage of Osama Bin Laden would commandeer the planes and use the aircrafts as weapons of terror and misery.
They couldn’t escape.
We know that United 93 passengers tried to retake the plane from the terrorists, and the plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
We know that United 175 hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. American 11 destroyed the north tower.
And we know that American 77 smashed into the Pentagon building.
We know that on that terrible, tragic day, innocent men, women and children were murdered. Forcefully taken on a kamikaze mission by demagogues and zealots and fanatics.
Yes, we responded. Yes, we fought back. Yes, we captured and killed Osama Bin Laden. Yes, we rebuilt the Pentagon. Yes, we’re rebuilding the Freedom Tower. Yes, we read the names of those who have fallen, the heroes and the victims, the brothers and the sisters, the sons and daughters, the husbands and wives, the sergeants and the captains.
I never want to forget that day. I never want to let it drift into just a historical event. That day – September 11, 2001 – was a moment in time that transfixed all of us.
Those of us who remember September 11, 2001, we mark it in our own special ways. We read the names of the fallen. We donate blood. We say a prayer. We fly our flags for all to see. We try to heal. Some of us can. Many of us can’t.
Today, I wear these pins. Souvenir pilot’s wings that, from an earlier time, would have put a smile on a young child’s face as a white-gloved flight attendant handed them out with a smile and a wink.
I wear these pins for all those who fly. And for those who now fly to the heavens.
God bless us all, and God keep us safe on this solemn, painful day.