So today, September 11, 2019, marks the 18th anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks on America. For those of us who are baby boomers, that day is seared in our memory as are the days of the President John F. Kennedy assassination, the day that astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and the day of the space shuttle Challenger implosion. I’m amazed that each of those days was simply a 24 hour period — yet each of those days is ingrained in my memory and has become a dateline of how my life has been measured . . . as I measure time in my life as happening either before or after those dates.
I began the day in 2001, as it was the 2nd Tuesday of the month, leading our monthly pre-need seminar for invited senior guests. I remember a guest, and I could tell you who it was, mentioning to me as he arrived that “a plane had hit the World Trade Center”. Thinking it was a small passenger plane I thought little of it. We did the seminar and then, since we did not have a funeral that day and Tuesday was my golf day, I raced out to the first tee.
Cell phones were turned off and I am pretty sure we did not have text messaging at that time so we had no reason to look at our phones. I vividly remember coming into the clubhouse following the round of golf and what was usually a boisterous atmosphere had not a soul, sans the bartender, in the room. The television had CNN on it and the bartender caught my foursome up to speed with what had happened. Like everybody else in America, I was stunned and raced home to watch CNN and its reporting for the rest of the night.
That day 18 years ago has changed a lot of things. We now have the TSA and the rules it has brought to travel. . . including, for our safety, lines at airport terminals. A formerly pretty trusting way of life with strangers we meet has turned into a more guarded view of them and everything else.
However, as funeral directors and others in the death care profession — a lot has remained the same. We still aim to serve families one family at a time and are always there to help them walk through their grief regardless of how that loved one was lost.
And, many of my colleagues remember more of that day 18 years ago than I do. . . .because they were there to walk hand in hand with those families through their grief. It was family members of office workers, police officers, and fire fighters in New York City that needed care. It was family members of our armed forces heroes in Washington, and it was the family members of all kinds of just normal folk on Flight 93 that was crash landed in a rural field in Pennsylvania.
Funeral directors and other industry workers rose to the task to serve those families with compassion. I was fortunate to meet a sister of Minnesota’s own Tom Burnet, Jr. who was one who helped foil the intended plans of crashing Flight 93 into our nation’s capitol and died doing it. When she learned that I was a funeral director, she told me the story of funeral director and coroner Wally Miller of Somerset, Pennsylvania. It was in his duty area where Flight 93 was brought down and she told me he was a “hero” to the families for his compassion and effort.
I’ve never met Mr. Miller, but as a fellow funeral director, I was not surprised that one of our colleagues would give such service above self. That just emanates in our profession.
So, as we remember that awful day from 18 years ago today, let’s also remember the goodness that our profession will always provide to our nation on days like that.
Here are some links about our colleagues and what they did that day.
This is a 2017 article on Wally Miller and his recollections of his work following the crash.
This is a a 2018 article on Wally Miller and his work and ties with the families of Flight 93.
This is an article from the Order of the Golden Rule about other funeral directors lauded for their efforts following the 9/11 tragedy.
Here is the web-site for the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.