Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tom McMillan

I just finished reading Flight 93: The Story, the Aftermath, and the Legacy of American Courage on 9/11 by Tom McMillan who like many of us is tied closely to the story of Flight 93 and the physical place of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. He is actually a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and an executive with the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. It's not like this book was written just for me, but so many of McMillan's accounts bring back personal anecdotes and strong emotions. First there are some family members whom I've hand the honor of meeting and working with over the last almost fourteen years. Debby Borza is the mother of the youngest hero on Flight 93-Deora Bodley. Debby is quoted several times in the book and her quotes remind me of just how eloquent she is. I learned more though such as when Somerset County Coroner Wally Miller gathered the families in New Jersey in February of 2002. Debby was there as she was in 2010 when ground was broken on the permanent Memorial. Then there is Kenny Nacke, the brother of hero Louis "Joey" Nacke. Kenny is a police detective in Baltimore and drove to Shanksville in the days immediately following 9/11. It was important for Kenny to lay a flower on the mass grave that was his brother's and the thirty-nine other heroes. It was Kenny who in 2009 organized a Run for the 40 as he and a group of other motorcycle enthusiasts traveled the intended path of Flight 93 from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco California. I met Debby and Kenny both in 2005 or 2006 at the Seven Springs Resort. I was accompanying my school along with other teachers on our annual trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania. Debby and Kenny both spoke to our students that day and then traveled the short distance "down the mountain" to what was then the temporary memorial. I later learned Seven Springs was where several family members stayed and met in the days after 9/11. Another person I met many years ago is Donna Glessner. I knew Donna was instrumental in beginning the Ambassador program at Flight 93 which evolved into the Friends of Flight 93. How that all began-well you'll have to read the book. It is just one more part of how a small rural town (maybe 250 residents)in Somerset County in western Pennsylvania embraced the families of United 93. It is the story of how these folks went about doing something there was no template or precedent for-how their lives and their hometown would forever be changed. It is part of what has made this something that has become an important part of my life-something I am not eloquent enough to put into words-that's why I let others like Tom McMillan do this. Then there is Val McClatchey,the woman who took the iconic photograph "The End of Serenity." Again-you'll have to read the book for all the facets that make up Val's story. Val "found" me several years ago when I was still teaching full-time and our middle school was putting together some oral histories of 9/11 that would evolve into a theater production. We were working with a resident artist and had placed an ad in our local newspaper about gathering information. A friend of Val's in northeast Ohio from her Camaro Club saw the article and called her. She in turn called me that morning and we arranged (at her expense) for her to come to our school and share her story. I have only scratched the surface of the stories that make up Flight 93. I have left out the hijackers, the response by law enforcement, and of course so many more stories of the brave 40 heroes and their families.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Summer of Service

Mid May brings thoughts of an upcoming summer. Since I retired full-time nearly one year ago, my summer came earlier this year! My part-time teaching responsibilities at both the community college and university ended late last week. That's given me some time to reflect and do some organizing and reorganizing. It's also given me the time to catch up on some e-mails. One was from the Flight 93 Memorial. They are getting ready for what will surely be another busy summer in Shanksville. There was also included an invite to train as a Memorial Plaza Greeter. I had been trained in 2013 and spent parts of a Saturday and a Sunday at the Plaza. It was a very rewarding experience. It seemed nearly every visitor to the site wanted to talk-both before they walked to the Wall and upon their return. I was reminded again that weekend what service is as I realized I gained more than I gave. Last summer I sadly was not able to commit to a weekend or week days to volunteer. My calendar looks better this summer and there's more excitement. A Memorial Plaza Greeter is soon to be renamed a Greeter. As of September 10th my training will allow me to be part of the Visitor Center and all that goes with the exciting newest phase at the Flight 93 Memorial. Go to the Memorial's website at to check out photos and videos of the ongoing, soon-to-be-completed construction of both The Visitor Center and The Learning Center. The bridge that connects these two buildings to the Memorial is completed. As an educator I am excited about the possibilities the future holds for events and educational opportunities to occur here. As a volunteer I am excited to learn more-to be able to share more with future visitors to the site. As an American and a traveler and a person who has visited the site over a dozen times I am excited about another way to honor the memory of the actions of 40 very brave individuals on September 11, 2001.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Plant a Tree Find Your Park Earth Day

Plant a Tree at Flight 93 is a program I have participated in the last three years at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA Yesterday marked the best weather yet! A day not unlike September 11, 2001-blue skies and warm temperatures. The first photo shows us -Work Crew # 12 getting directions from our great leader Chet. We worked in pairs-one person manning the dibble-a shovel designed for planting and one person placing the seedlings in the hole made for planting. The photo at the left shows the active construction going on at the Memorial. The Visitor and Learning Center represent the next, but not final phase of construction. These two buildings will be connected by a pedestrian bridge (which is completed) to the Memorial. For those not able or willing to walk that far-each place will have its own parking lot. Very exciting indeed. There is classroom space in the Learning Center and the windows will have a view of the impact site. These will be done by fall. Programming will be limited at first, but the possibilities are outstanding. The photo on the lower right is from the Memorial Wall and this is the panel for passenger Donald Greene. Notice the flowers in front of the panel. We were honored yesterday to be joined by his widow Claudette who traveled from Connecticut to join us. Donald was one of two passengers who likely could have flown United 93 had the passengers and crew been successful on 9/11/2001. They saved lives-perhaps thousands, but gave up their own. Donald was 52 at the time and was executive vice-president of of Safe Flight, who products are used on 2/3 of the world's aircraft. After our work on planting was done and after lunch we headed up to the Memorial. On our way back we noticed Claudette and perhaps a ranger making their way to the rock that marks the impact site. Poignant moment.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Plant a Tree at Flight 93

Tomorrow is April 1st, but it does not feel like it. I keep waiting for warmer weather or at least to see some "things" growing-a bud, a flower, something. In two weekends I will be traveling to Shanksville for the third time to plant trees. The weather does not usually cooperate, but that is not the point. The seedlings we will plant will one day grow into trees that will enhance the Flight 93 Memorial. Trees are a sign of life. In the last two years I have been honored to work alongside family members. In 2013 it was Debbie Borza the mother of Deora Bodley, the youngest passenger aboard Flight 93. Last year we met and chatted with Larry Grandcolas, the father of passenger Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas who was pregnant with her first child. As a young woman growing up Deora was committed to helping others. Larry, before and after his visit to Shanksville had been interviewing high school girls who were candidates to receive a college scholarship in his daughter's honor. As I have evolved as a person and as an educator I have learned much about service. A model for service learning involves three simple yet complex words-Prepare, Act, and Reflect. I often think that the brave heroes of Flight 93 never had the chance to reflect on their actions and they certainly had little time to prepare. Recently on a school trip to Washington D. C. I finally had a chance to view the plaque dedicated to the heroes of Flight 93 in the Capitol Rotunda. When one of the volunteers saw me taking pictures she asked if I knew anyone on the flight. When I told her no, but that I had had the honor of meeting several family members we engaged in a conversation that lasted about 15 minutes. It turned out that Nellie had been to Shanksville many times like myself, but none more moving than on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Prepare, Act, Reflect

Two snowy Mondays ago I spoke to the Chardon Rotary which meets every Monday at noon. I was asked to speak about Flight 93. It was hard to pick topics that only covered twenty minutes. I often assume everyone knows about Flight 93, but unfortunately this isn't always the case. I had planned to include some photos in my presentation, but technology was not on my side that day. I was looking for a passage from the book Among the Heroes by Jere Longman, but was unable to locate it. It spoke not just to the bravery of the passengers and crew, but to their resiliency, their unique ability to respond to a unique once-in-a-lifetime crisis. Onll e of my favorite topics that I was able to explore as a full-time middle school teacher was service-learning. To plan and execute projects was such an exhilarating experience. The three words in the title represent a model for service-learning experiences. You can't just jump in-you must prepare students first. The act is the project itself. Here is where the passengers never got their chance. Their actions ended the actions of the terrorists saving hundreds, maybe thousands of lives on 9/11/2001. We have the opportunity to reflect on their actions and to continue their legacy by continuing to tell the story of their brave actions. The other part of my talk was about 21st Century Skills-communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and technology. All of those were used by the 40 that day.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Yesterday I had a chance for a new experience. I was asked to speak at the noon meeting of the Chardon Rotary. It was a typical January day in northeast Ohio. Snow, wind, and cold, but it did not dampen the spirits of the forty or so Rotarians who packed the room for lunch, a quick meeting, and me. Rotary is a great organization-very dedicated to service, not just in its local community, but really world-wide as I learned yesterday. Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti is one of their pet projects. This struck me as I sat listening in anticipation of my talk. I had been asked several years ago to talk about Chardon Middle School's efforts in regards to Flight 93 by Dr. Dennis Kowalski who at the time was head of the Greater Cleveland Educational Developmental Center housed at Cleveland State University. GCEDC provides professional development for educators throughout northeast Ohio. Dennis has done many presentations, literally around the world, on 21st Century Skills-communication, technology, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. Somehow the passengers aboard Flight 93 had utilized all of those skills in taking down the terrorists that day, thus losing their lives, but saving thousands of others. But back to service. The heroes of Flight 93 bravely served their country that day. Through the work I have done with students and other educators over the last several years in regard to Flight 93 and 9/11 I have learned about service. Had I been able to utilize the 21st century skill of technology yesterday I had several Power Point slides to present-one of which is a simple yet profound model for service-Prepare, Act, and Reflect. That is how you organize service with students. Before you jump in with both feet, you must prepare them for what is about to happen-what lessons will you teach before you take a group to the Flight 93 Memorial, the Pentagon Memorial, the 9/11 Memorial Museum. At the end of my talk, a gentleman told me he would tell me a story. On a recent trip to Ireland his driver had taken his family to a spot he knew would have special importance for them. It was a memorial to the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. A tree was planted for each of them and there is a red bench for what is believed to be the first life lost on 9/11 that of Father Michael Judge, a chaplain, and personal friend of Kathleen Cait Murphy, a native of Kinsale, who worked as a nurse for 30 years in New York City. Rather than tell you more I suggest you visit this site and others to learn about this very special place-far from the United States, but very close to our hears.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Deora Bodley

The news came this morning through a text from a close friend. Last month three young people were killed in a car accident on an icy road when their car crashed into a school bus. Two were high school students and the third was a recent graduate. Her text was a link to a newspaper article that two high schools honored their memories before a recent game. The two schools were neighboring districts. How sad when people's lives end so quickly and suddenly. How much worse is it when the victims are young people? Young men and women about to begin their lives' journey. Such was the story on September 11, 2001 when the youngest victim of Flight 93, 20 year old Deora Bodley lost her life. Deora was only 20 and was a junior at Santa Clara University. She was to return there on the cross-country flight from Newark to San Francisco. She had been visiting friends in New Jersey and Connecticut. You can and you should read more about Deora either on-line or in the book Among the Heroes by Jere Longman. She was a talented young lady who reached out to many, many people in her young life-especially other young people. I was humbled and honored to have met Deora's mother Deborah Borza. She spoke to our students at the Seven Springs Resort, at the Memorial, and again in our community. She helped us create an oral history of Flight 93. I worked with her on a crew two Aprils ago in a Plant a Tree at Flight 93 event. To get another glimpse into these two extraordinary women watch the film United 93. At the end of the film is a documentary about the creation of the film. Several of the actors visit the families of the heroes they portrayed. The young lady who played Deora, Trieste Kelly Dunn, visits Debby at her then home in California. To say it is moving is an understatement. In a journal Deora kept, Debby found a quote she had written at a very young age. "People ask how, what, where, when, and why. I ask peace." As protests rage throughout our country and now two police officers in New York City have been killed this quote seems even more poignant.