Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hero of Flight 93

Jeremy Glick joins a line of courageous Jewish heroes.

by Seamus McGraw

It is a long ride from the shattered peace of Bergen County, N.J., to the mournful solitude of Wyndham, N.Y., the upstate ski resort where a memorial service was held Sunday for Jeremy Glick, 31.

Along the way, there was plenty of time for high school buddies Josh Denbeaux and Brad Stein to swap stories and reminisce about their former schoolmate and lifelong friend, whose apparent role in bringing down a hijacked plane in Pennsylvania last week is spawning comparisons to the heroism of Jewish martyrs throughout the ages.

"I can tell you this," said Mr. Stein, with a tone of reverence in his voice. "Even back in high school, that dude was unstoppable. Whatever happened on that plane, I know he had the guts and determination to do what needed to be done."

"That plane," of course, was United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark, bound for San Francisco, one of four jumbo jets hijacked September 11 by suicide terrorists bent on wreaking havoc. Flight 93 was the only one of the four that didn't hit its target with deadly accuracy. Instead, it plunged into the ground in rural western Pennsylvania, cutting short its murderous flight path toward Washington, D.C.

Investigators were still sifting through the wreckage of the jet this week, focusing on the contents of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders in an effort to piece together the last few horrific moments aboard the airplane. But based on a last-minute cell-phone conversation between Glick and his wife, Lyzbeth, at her home in West Milford, N.J., investigators believe that Glick and other passengers, aware of the attacks that had leveled the World Trade Center and the Pentagon minutes before, decided to battle the hijackers. In so doing, they may have speeded the end of their own lives, but saved countless others.

According to published reports, Glick, a sales manager for a technology firm, told his wife that he and three other passengers, now believed to be Mark Bingham, Todd Beamer and Tom Burnett, were planning to rush the hijackers. He told Lyzbeth that she needed to be strong, for herself and for their infant daughter, Emerson.

The last words he spoke to his wife were these: "We've decided. We're going to do it."

That kind of heroism, and leadership, Mr. Denbeaux said, is exactly what anyone who knew Glick would expect.

"I will bet you he was the first one up there when they took on those terrorists," Mr. Denbeaux said.

Quiet leadership, he said, was Glick's most defining characteristic. He showed it when he was just 14 years old and a freshman wrestler at Saddle River Day School. The moment Glick walked into the school, Mr. Denbeaux remembered, other students, older students, seemed drawn to him.

It was a characteristic that Glick showed again and again. He showed it during college, where he was a judo champion. He showed it even earlier, as a member of Project Otzma in 1991, when he spent 10 months in Israel performing community service, studying Hebrew and honing his leadership skills, under the sponsorship of the Jewish Federation of MetroWest, N.J. The program is jointly run by the Israel Forum and what is now the United Jewish Communities.

He was, said Mr. Stein, physically imposing, standing just over six feet, with immense physical strength and the mental acuity to temper it.

"There is no other way to put it," Mr. Stein said. "He was an amazing athlete. Even the site of his memorial service reflects that," Mr. Stein said. An avid snow boarder, Glick had loved Wyndham and was an instructor there briefly.

The third of six children raised by parents who valued kindness and compassion as much as physical strength and learning, Glick was the kind of guy who made his parents proud, Mr. Stein said, and he put their values into action. After college he traveled to Japan, where he taught English and developed what would become a lifelong interest in East Asia.

His death on Flight 93 is fast becoming a national legend, one of the few moments of glory in the horrific events of September 11. Among the email messages about him that have been circulating around the Internet this past week, one anonymous message says that he "joins a line of courageous Jewish heroes evoking Mordechai Anielewicz, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and Hannah Senesh of the Haganah, who parachuted into Nazi-controlled Europe only to be executed by the Germans." The comparison isn't far-fetched.

There is talk, Mr. Denbeaux noted, that Glick, Bingham and Burnett may be honored with the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the highest award for valor that can be bestowed on a civilian, a citation that carries as great, or perhaps even greater significance, than the Congressional Medal of Honor.

"That would be fitting," Mr. Denbeaux said. "In fact, if they don't do that, it would be a crime."

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