It’s passed into history as almost a callsign for an act of heroism, a modern-day “once more into the breach” entreaty.
But those words – “let’s roll! “ – probably uttered by an ordinary family man, are a reminder about true sacrifice.
Tod Beamer was a passenger on United Flight 93, the last of the four planes hijacked on 11 September 2001. It was the only one which did not reach its target in a densely populated American city. Whereas two planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the third crashed into the Pentagon defence building in Washington, Flight 93 crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.
It was the actions of Beamer and other unarmed passengers, who tried to take back the plane from its al-Qaeda hijackers, which prevented more huge loss of life on that tragic day.
Watching documentaries about 9/11, and specifically about Flight 93, I wondered what there is deep inside humans which pushes them to make the ultimate sacrifice. And let’s remember this was not a mere suicidal gesture: the passengers knew by then they were about to be used as a guided missile. Yet they were prepared to die that others might live.
That notion of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help others, even at the risk of their own lives, is something I have come across occasionally in my life.
I am not talking about the supposed bravery of soldiers in battle. Much of that, to be honest, is what you’re trained to do – attack and not retreat and hope the enemy’s nerves are more fragile than yours and they break first.
Bravery is not the image of war photographers and camera people, risking their lives to “get the shot”. That is their job and they are judged on whether they captured a scene and others didn’t. Putting yourself in harm’s way as they do, veers more towards recklessness than true heroism, in my view.
A real hero (male or female) is someone who puts their life on the line for someone else… even someone they don’t know.
I interviewed a man once who had no hesitation in running towards a burning bus to pluck passengers from the flames. When I asked him why, he confessed he couldn’t really explain it, other than to say people would have died. He couldn’t stand and watch that, he said.
It is difficult for me to understand that level of selflessness – because by nature, I am a coward. I don’t like conflict, I don’t like pain. In a “contact” in the bush, I would feel protected by the machine gun I carried and its massive rate of fire.
As a reporter in the townships, I ducked behind walls when the bullets began flying.
But I honestly hope that one day, when I see the equivalent of a burning bus, I will think of someone else before my own safety. I would like to know that, when the chips were down, a helpless member of society could count on me.
That’s why I find it so hard to understand the attitude of people who won’t get vaccinated, despite all the evidence that it is safe and that it benefits society as a whole. You’re not being asked to lay down your life (despite what the fake news claims); you’re being asked to take a tiny bit of discomfort.
It could help save lives. It could help alleviate suffering. Do the right thing. Be a Tod Beamer.