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Amid Web sites, charities and songs, families and friends keep memories
By Todd Spangler, Associated Press
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Nicole Miller's mom did something to remember the daughter she lost in the crash of Flight 93, a tiny act she couldn't see herself taking even before Sept. 11.
She boarded a plane.
Putting aside nightmares of planes falling out of the sky which had plagued her long before her 21-year-old daughter was killed, Cathy Stefani got a ticket, boarded a jet in California and flew across country.
"I think she would want me to get over that fear," Stefani said.
In gestures big and small, the heroes of what has been called the first battle in America's war against terrorism have been remembered by their families, friends and people they never met. A foundation bearing Todd Beamer's name wants to help kids deal with trauma and learn how to make choices. Jeremy's Heroes -- named for Jeremy Glick -- is dedicated to helping children build character through sports.
There have been awards, Web sites and songs singing the praises of the seven crew members and 33 passengers who died when the plane crashed in a field in remote western Pennsylvania, and investigators have credited people on board -- some of whom made frantic calls to loved ones before the plane crashed, telling them of plans to take on the four hijackers -- with bringing down the aircraft far from some intended target in Washington.
Scholarships have been named for some of the victims. A bill before Congress would place a national memorial at the site of the crash.
But families and friends of those who died have also honored their loved ones in many smaller, more personal ways -- a wife puts a library in her new home, a room her lost husband always wanted; a man whose niece's husband died saves every clipping he sees on the crash, thinking the couple's child may some day want to see them.
Stefani hands out pins with her daughter's name and photo on them; a park bench remembering Nicole -- who loved the outdoors, loved to exercise -- has been placed in her father's hometown, and another will be put not far from her mother's house, a spot for people to rest.
Parents and spouses bury what little remains returned from the site of the crash.
A wife makes a dinner for her kids she has never made before and when her children turn up their noses, asking what it is, she explains: Their daddy loved Sloppy Joes.
For some, like Alice Hoglan, Mark Bingham's mother, it's gotten harder as time has gone on. "I've been immobilized by grief. It gets tighter and tighter," she said. "It's like pouring acid on glass. It's slowly etching its way down."
And some find themselves doing things they never would have thought of doing before.
Back before Sept. 11, Deena Burnett didn't talk too much when she went to a dinner party with her husband, Tom. He did all the talking, and that was fine with his wife, a stay-at-home mom to their three children. She admits she'd get nervous even talking one-on-one with some people.
Now, after losing Tom in the crash, Deena Burnett has found her voice. She relates her experiences; she talks about her Catholic faith. At a dinner in California recently, she spoke to 1,400 people. With everything that she's been through, it seems silly getting nervous over talking to people.
"You can't seem to concentrate on anything other than your loss," she said. "The words just flowed. They come so easily."
That doesn't mean everything comes so effortlessly. When she moved from California back to Arkansas this year to be closer to her parents, Deena Burnett had to register her children for school. A form asked for the name of the children's father, and she left it blank.
When someone at the school asked her about it, she just filled it in "deceased."
"I kept thinking, 'What do I say? Do I explain everything that happened?' I just took it back and wrote it down."
Another form asked her to say whether she was single, married or divorced.
"I'm none of those things. What do I put?"
For some, memorializing the heroes has meant taking on causes the victims cared about, or defending the lives that they lived.
Hoglan, who lives in the San Francisco area, has been trying to psych herself up for speaking engagements, to become more involved. A flight attendant, she is pushing everything from aviation security to better relations between Israel and the Arab world.
Her son -- who was gay -- loved to play rugby, and teams in the Bay area vie for a cup named in his honor; his mother wants to promote the sport in America.
And she wants to speak for gay rights. Mark, she says, wasn't much of an activist -- "He thought it was more important to be good at pick-up basketball," she says -- but she wants to be.
She plans to write articles, and there have been some speeches she's given. In September, she'll speak to a Human Rights Commission gathering, even though she still feels overwhelmed by grief. "I've taken a persuasive speaking class to try to be better."
At the Beamer foundation in New Jersey, CEO Doug MacMillan has met and talked to some of his heroes -- football players and coaches, NASCAR drivers. All are interested in helping the group which would develop retreats for at-risk kids and children who are learning how to deal with trauma. Florida State Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden talked to MacMillan, wanting to use the words "Let's Roll" -- the phrase Todd Beamer uttered to his seatmates before they apparently took action against the hijackers -- as the team's motto this year.
Beamer was a sports nut, always talking about "stepping up to the plate" or "hitting the ball out of the park." Meeting people like those his buddy, MacMillan, has met, would have been a dream come true.
But it comes with a bitter taste for MacMillan, who quit his job in sales to take over the foundation as CEO.
"The only reason I'm talking to these people is because my best friend died," he said.
Jeremy Glick's older sister, Jennifer, is president of the foundation named after her brother -- a group which has supplied sneakers to kids in Chicago and paid for 20 children in Washington to attend a soccer camp. The idea, one which be close to Jeremy's heart, is to build character through sports.
Jennifer has also done something else to remember her brother. She and her siblings are recording tapes of stories they remember -- the time Jeremy came to her son's second birthday and pretended to put a stick in his ear; how she and Jeremy and a brother used to ride their Big Wheels as kids into their father's garage door.
The tapes will be there so the family and their children never forget.
Cathy Stefani is over her fear of flying. In April, she jetted across country, retracing the steps her daughter Nicole took on a New York visit before she boarded Flight 93 in Newark on Sept. 11. Then Stefani went to New Jersey, where the Justice Department played a cockpit tape recovered from the crash and told her that all the 40 passengers and crew were heroes.
Nicole, she is sure, would have been in the middle of the battle.
Stefani isn't afraid of getting on board a plane. She doesn't worry about dying. Her daughter, she says, would have wanted it that way.
"I feel I'm a stronger person that I was before," she said. "But there
is that emptiness."
On the Net:
Somerset County Flight 93 site:
Flight 93 Memorial Information Center:
The Legacy of Flight 93:
The Todd M. Beamer Foundation:
Mark Bingham site:
Nicole Miller Memorial site: