From my oldest brother, who lives in San Diego. I know it is long, but worth it, truly. And it is a way for us to remember, by hearing an American Airlines pilot's perspective.
Dear family and friends,
I heard this brief but moving message today at school and asked if I could get it in writing and send it out. I trust it will encourage us to remember the dreadful attacks of 2001, thank God for His protection through these past seven years, and continue to pray for victory in the war on terror and for the prolongation of our freedoms.
The following was presented by Captain Denny Breslin, a recently retired American Airlines pilot, now Director of Aviation at San Diego Christian College, in the college’s Chapel service today, September 10, 2008 as a commemoration of the 9/11 attacks.
As your new Director of Aviation at SDCC I asked ... if I could talk to you this morning as part of a pledge to NEVER FORGET the attacks on America seven years ago - tomorrow - and to give you some perspective on how God figures into the chaos that followed. Someone said the 9/11 attacks linger somewhere between a distant memory and the immediate past. I ask you today to remember the 2974 people who perished – including 33 flight crewmembers - and to always remember that this is a nation founded on Christian principles and no matter what – GOD IS IN CONTROL.
As an American Airlines pilot whose friends and fellow crewmembers were brutally murdered on American flight 11 out of Boston and flight 77 out of Washington Dulles – flights that my wife Jean Marie and I have flown hundreds of times – 9/11 was a very difficult day for us.
Do you remember what you were doing at 0546, Tuesday morning 9/11/2001? As a pilot union rep for American, I was flying my plane on an instrument approach to Orange County airport for a union meeting. ATC said all aircraft are hereby ordered to land immediately by POTUS [the President of the United States] – they usually don’t kid about that stuff. [We] landed, set up communications command center at Atrium hotel, and tried to understand what had just happened. When the airlines and airplanes were identified, we knew it was our buddies who had just died: John Ogonowski and Tom McGuinness, Chick Burlingame and Dave Charlebois.
We struggled in the following weeks with questions about how such a vicious, unprovoked attack could take place on our homeland – against our airline – against our friends and family
Many people turned to God that day with their questions.
· How could a loving God allow those people to die?
· How could a compassionate God allow them to suffer so?
· Why do bad things happen to good, innocent, helpless people?
· Where was God that day when we needed Him?
A year later and 3000 miles away my 30 year old nephew attempted suicide. My brother called me as he helplessly watched his son in despair, after cutting his wrists in their home. When I asked Pat what had caused his pain – his words were unforgettable, and instantly understandable. He said, “How could God make those people choose between jumping or burning?” I knew immediately what he meant. Dozens of people above the 86th floor leapt to their deaths from a hundred stories up, rather than burn in the flames. Though his pain was from a decision he himself would never have to make, it caused him to question God – and became a symbol for the confusion and hopelessness that many people felt. We all questioned.
But God answers.
1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. Two weeks later I was asked to speak at a MEMORIAL SERVICE at USD [The University of San Diego]. The church was packed with both believers and non-believers. I needed a message that transcended faith and spoke to the hope that sustains us.
Speaking about the flight crewmembers who became the first 33 victims in this war on terror -and the brave passengers and first responders who tried to help, I said: “Hero is the key word isn’t it? I mean, they were all heroes weren’t they? We know a number of them rose up to fight the intruders on behalf of all Americans… and they themselves were sacrificed in the process. The Lord has taken them in a tragedy that rocks the foundation of our belief in a Loving and Merciful God. Some have said, “It isn’t fair! Where was God when they needed him most?”
As a believer in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I know where He was that day while America prayed: He was very busy. He was trying to discourage people from taking those flights. Together, those four flights could hold over 1,000 passengers, but there were only 266 aboard that day. He was on 2 American and 2 United flights giving terrified crews and passengers the ability to stay calm. And in that calmness, he was giving unbelievers the opportunity to accept His salvation. On one of the flights He was giving strength to crewmembers and passengers to try to overtake the highjackers.
On the ground He was busy creating traffic jams, delays and obstacles so that thousands of people would not be at work on time at the World Trade Center at 0846 September 11 saving their lives for His purpose, and His time. He was busy holding up two 110-story buildings for over an hour -so that thousands of people could escape. What else was He doing that day?
He was bringing America together in prayer for the first time, in a long time. Many Americans will now come to understand that their freedom cannot be taken for granted, that there was a price to pay for that freedom, and on September 11, 2001, four more installment payments were made on that freedom. Our beloved friends and colleagues on those planes were the first victims in a war that will end terrorism, but we all know it will be a long battle and there will be more victims. Praise God that we know the story ends in His Glorious victory!
Captain Denny Breslin American Airlines (retired)
Director of Aviation
San Diego Christian College
El Cajon, California