Editor’s note: My son Nathan gave the speech, below, for an assignment in his Terrorism class at Nebraska Wesleyan University. The assignment was to tell about the life of one of the victims on 9/11 and the impact they made before and after their death. I recommended Todd Beamer immediately. Nathan didn’t remember Mr. Beamer by name, but he remembered the events from Flight 93 and when I said, “You know, the fellow who said ‘Let’s Roll’”, he recalled all. The challenge in this assignment was not coming up with something to say, it was how to limit, as there was so much that could have been said. What I was most proud of about Nathan’s speech was his recollection of and decision to include parts of the poem, The Character of a Happy Warrior, by William Wordsworth. Time constraints required only selections from the poem be included in the speech, but I have included it here in its entirety. Local media were very interested in the NWU Terrorism course because of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. One of the stories produced appeared on the KLKN website.
A survey of America’s recent news headlines might cause some to wonder whether our best days are behind us and whether they last great generation to ever be seen was the one which weathered a decade-long depression and fought a world war.
But the events of September 11, 2001, showed the American people’s capacity for greatness through its many individual acts of bravery and self-sacrifice. One American who perished that day proved that even those who seem the most “ordinary” have in them the capacity to show heroism – to give all in order to save others.
The ancient Greek historian Plutarch wrote:
“The measure of a man is the way he bears up under misfortune.”
To this, Thomas Babington Macaulay added:
“The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.”
On September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was a thirty-two year old man most of us would consider ordinary; he was a husband and father with an “ordinary” job at a computer software company. Unlike mythological heroes, Todd’s priority was his family; he was only on Flight 93 because he decided not to take his usual evening flight to San Francisco; he wanted to spend time with his two boys after having been away from them for a week.
Forty-six minutes after Flight 93 took off from the Newark airport, the four hijackers on board waged their violent takeover. Todd, along with the nine other passengers and five flight attendants who had been herded to the back of the plane quickly learned, through their calls to family, that theirs was not the only plane hijacked that day.
In less than thirty-five minutes, in between reciting prayers with others, Todd contemplated what to do. It appears his decision was reached with a calm resolve and an effort to rally others. As he dropped the in-flight phone which he’d tried to use to call his wife, the operator heard him say:
“Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”
Todd’s final words quickly became a catch-phrase and a rallying cry for many Americans. It has been seen painted on fighter jets, baseball caps, and souvenirs. And Todd has had a school, a university building, and a post office re-named in his honor.
But, Todd’s bravery and resolve are more than a catch phrase: he and others gave up their lives in thwarting the hijackers’ efforts to turn a fourth airplane into a bomb. They prevented further death and destruction. The events on Flight 93 provided much-needed inspiration to a country which had suffered an unprecedented attack. Todd’s actions in particular, so bold, so firm, seemed extraordinary to a nation whose proud spirit was much wounded.
WHO is the happy Warrior? Who is he
What every man in arms should wish to be?
—It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his childish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright:
Who, with a natural instinct to discern
What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn,
Abides by this resolve, and stops not there,
But makes his moral being his prime care;
Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!
Turns his necessity to glorious gain;
In face of these doth exercise a power
Which is our human nature’s highest dower;
Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves
Of their bad influence, and their good receives:
By objects, which might force the soul to abate
Her feeling, rendered more compassionate;
Is placable—because occasions rise
So often that demand such sacrifice;
More skilful in self-knowledge, even more pure,
As tempted more; more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;
Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.
—’Tis he whose law is reason; who depends
Upon that law as on the best of friends;
Whence, in a state where men are tempted still
To evil for a guard against worse ill,
And what in quality or act is best
Doth seldom on a right foundation rest,
He labours good on good to fix, and owes
To virtue every triumph that he knows:
—Who, if he rise to station of command,
Rises by open means; and there will stand
On honourable terms, or else retire,
And in himself possess his own desire;
Who comprehends his trust, and to the same
Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;
And therefore does not stoop, nor lie in wait
For wealth, or honours, or for worldly state,
Whom they must follow; on whose head must fall,
Like showers of manna, if they come at all:
Whose power shed round him in the common strife,
Or mild concerns of ordinary life,
A constant influence, a peculiar grace;
But who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw:
Or if an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will, is equal to the need:
—He who, though thus endued as with a sense
And faculty for storm and turbulence,
Is yet a Soul whose master-bias leans
To homefelt pleasures and to gentle scenes;
Sweet images! which, whereso’er he be,
Are at his heart; and such fidelity
It is his darling passion to approve;
More brave for this, that he hath much to love:—
’Tis, finally, the Man, who, lifted high,
Conspicuous object in a Nation’s eye,
Or left unthought-of in obscurity,—
Who, with a toward or untoward lot,
Prosperous or adverse, to his wish or not,
Plays, in the many games of life, that one
Where what he most doth value must be won.
Whom neither shape of danger can dismay,
Nor thought of tender happiness betray;
Who, not content that former worth stand fast,
Looks forward, persevering to the last,
From well to better, daily self-surpast:
Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth
For ever, and to noble deeds give birth,
Or he must fall to sleep without his fame,
And leave a dead unprofitable name,
Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause:
This is the happy Warrior; this is he
Whom every Man in arms should wish to be.