Nearly five years ago on Sept. 11, Deena Burnett received the fourth and final phone call from her husband, Tom, from hijacked Flight 93. She begged him, "Sit down, be quiet and don't draw attention to yourself." He refused.
In doing so, he and his fellow passengers became heroes to the American people. In a speech on Sept. 6 at Saint Mary"s College, Burnett emphasized that their heroism "was made over a lifetime of virtues. Actions built on character, courage and convictions."
"He and fellow passengers were the first to fight back against terrorism," said Burnett, who described in detail how her husband formulated a plan to take back the airplane over a rural area and led crew and passengers down the aisle to the cockpit of Flight 93. "In fighting back, they made a difference, but Tom would have said he was just doing the right thing. Each of us can be a hero; you don't have to have a tragic story, a podium or a spotlight. By making good choices, we each can make an impact on the world."
Of the thousands of e-mails that poured in following her husband's death, Burnett said three of them stood out: The man who never forgot how Tom, a high school football star, had taught him to throw a football when he was 7; A woman whose conversation with Tom about how much he loved his family led her to reconcile with her father; an EMT who had discussed his job with Tom, started a business training flight attendants on how to deal with emergency situations in flight.
"Tom didn't know the impact he'd made on these people," Burnett said. "He had just lived as kind, compassionate."
For Saint Mary's sophomore Michael Antonopoulos, listening to Burnett describe her final conversations with her husband filled him with emotion. "I thought about the thousands of people who died, but also the thousands they knew and what a huge impact one person can have," he said. "It definitely made me think how we're only a small part of the world, but we can make a huge difference."
Since that day five years ago, Burnett has become an ambassador for not only the victims of that fateful day, but for those she calls "everyday heroes," speaking predominantly at colleges and universities to students who may have been too young to fully grasp the gravity of Sept. 11. "I'm doing God's work and finishing what they started," she said.
Toward the end of her talk, Burnett shared a conversation with Tom that she believes was a moment of grace from God: "For about a year before he died, Tom began to attend Mass during his lunch breaks. He told me he felt like God was trying to tell him something, like he had a message for him. All he knew was that it was going to impact a great many people and it would involve the White House."
"I wonder if it was part of God's plan, trying to tell him what was to come."
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