With the somber remembrance last week of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country, it takes me back to a time in my life when I felt especially grateful - and a little unworthy.
I was working in my job as a flight attendant with American Airlines that infamous morning. My plane from Tampa, FL had just landed at DFW, and upon arrival at the gate, we got the word.
The announcement came that all flights across the U.S. were cancelled until further notice, and that all passengers, crew and airport personnel were to vacate the terminals.
It was surreal being among the hordes of people, hardly talking, just shuffling our way through the exits.
We couldn’t envision the ramifications that would come from the horrific events unfolding in real-time some 1,300 miles the northeast of Dallas-Fort Worth.
As the hours passed and we began to learn more about what happened, my interest turned to the 17 AA crew members who lost their lives that day in the two American Airlines planes that crashed.
Having worked with American for a number of years and been based in Chicago, Washington DC, Nashville and Dallas-Fort Worth, I knew there was a possibility I may have flown with one or more of the crew members somewhere along the line.
As more information became public and the names of the crew members were released, I was somewhat selfishly relieved that I did not know any of the crew who perished that day.
However, there WAS one person in particular that drew my attention. He was the captain of AA Flight 77, the plane that originated out of Dulles Airport and was flown into the Pentagon. His name was Charles Burlingame III. It so happens, I am also a Charles III. Then I read that Captain Burlingame was 51 years-old, a college graduate, was married, and had a daughter.
Charles had lived in a Virginia suburb west of Washington, DC, been with American for 15 years or so and been based out of Washington, DC. Me, too! I found out that one of his parents (his dad) was born in 1923 and had been deceased a few years before 9/11. My mom was born in 1923 and she, too, was deceased (7 years prior).
Captain Burlingame had served in the US Air Force and had a nickname of “Chic.”
My dad had served in the Army Air Corps (later to become the US Air Force) and went by the name “Chick” during those years. Furthermore, early that fateful morning of September 11, 2001, Captain Charles Burlingame and I both took off in our American Airlines jets from an Eastern US city and headed westward toward our destination hours away. I made it. He didn’t.
With all the similarities Captain Burlingame and I had at that moment in time, I couldn’t help but think “my goodness, that could have been me.” As I tried to assimilate these common things that Captain Burlingame and I shared, I couldn’t help but feel especially fortunate to still be around. For solace and better understanding, I turned to the One who made me. Scripture verses that I knew came to mind and heart.
Only by and in God’s grace, could one begin to find comfort in such a time of deep sorrow and grief. I pledged myself to be mindful and grateful for each day I have on this earth, counting every day as a gift.
Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.