9/11 Wings & Pin Dedication
Text of APFA President Laura Glading’s Speech given at the 9/11 Wings and Pin Dedication at the CR Smith Museum – 1.30.14
“One of the most memorable experiences in a Flight Attendant’s career is the graduation ceremony at the Flight Attendant Academy – or as we refer to it – The Charm Farm…. It’s a day full of pride and excitement. …I’m sure some of our guests here today attended a graduation to show a special person love and support. I remember mine very well.
Those who have witnessed it will agree that the pinnacle of the ceremony is the moment the Flight Attendants receive their wings. My aunt pinned mine on, which is tradition for those who have Flight Attendants in the family and one that lives on today. It’s a special moment because it is the exact moment that a person becomes a Flight Attendant.
Without wings, the uniform is just a blue polyester suit. But when you pin those wings on a graduate, a transformation takes place. Now suddenly that person in the suit is a highly trained professional – someone that can think fast, save lives, fight fires and evacuate an aircraft in less than a minute. And that person is a member of a family. A huge and growing family of Flight Attendants, instantly recognizable, as if those wings were a genetic family trait.
For Flight Attendants here at American, those wings are accompanied by the APFA pin. To the average passenger, it looks like a little Star Trek communicator, but to a fellow Flight Attendant, it represents the care and support that we provide one another through our union. Whether it’s a scheduling question, or retirement advice, or a shoulder to cry on in the wake of tragedy, that’s what the APFA is all about. That’s what the pin represents.
On September 11, 2001 – and in the days and months that followed – our family was more important than ever. I remember that day well.
I was here, in Texas preparing for a meeting with the Company when we heard the awful news. Despite the grounding of air traffic, American was able to get 2 care flights out that day. I was offered a seat on the flight to Boston so I could make my way back home in New York.
Two weeks later, it was my honor to participate in the memorial ceremonies held for our fallen co-workers. The memorials included a rose ceremony, where a single rose represented each fallen crewmember.
My job was to arrange for the roses to be brought to Ground Zero, their final resting place. With help from the Mayor’s office and the NYPD, a group of six of us, including both Flight Attendants and pilots, were able to make that very special delivery. After the last service in Boston, the roses were guarded overnight in a refrigerated room at Logan Airport. We picked them up in the morning and flew to JFK where a police escort was waiting to take us to Ground Zero.
We were warned many times about how horrible the scene was, but we were on a mission.
For me, having lived my whole life in New York, this was extraordinarily personal. Not only were my friends and colleagues among those working the flights, I knew firefighters and businesspeople who died in those towers as well.
The police brought us right to the crater, which was once Tower One. We said a prayer and tossed the roses into the rubble. I’ll never forget how the red pedals stood out so stark against the ashen debris. We spoke with the rescuers who were surprised and curious about our visit. They knew we were crew members, they saw our wings. They were anxious to share their stories and show us around. And they asked us many questions. We were a piece of this terrible puzzle. We were all hard-working people who wear uniforms, mourning the loss of our brave co-workers. And we were all searching for answers.
I delivered roses and a message to our fallen heroes that day: I told them that we knew what really happened; we knew that they did all they could; that there was nothing in our training manual that could have prepared them for this. I told them that we’d never forget them; that we’ll take care of their loved ones, and that our family will persevere.
That’s why, to me, it is so beautifully fitting that these wings and this union pin have been recovered. Nothing better symbolizes the Flight Attendant profession than these items. Seeing them here …serves as a reminder to us all that – no matter what- our family endures.
Even after all this time, words cannot adequately describe the pain of September 11, 2001.
For Flight Attendants, our colleagues in the cockpit and all who were touched by this unfathomable tragedy – that day marks so much loss. The loss of friends and family, but also the loss of a certain innocence and simplicity.
Our colleagues on board those planes were the first to die in a war that continues to rage on today in some of the farthest flung corners of the world. Their heroism changed our profession forever. Now when we put on our uniforms – complete with wings and union pins – we are reminded that we are the last line of defense against terrorism in the air.
It was a great pleasure to know some of the crew members that were working flights 11 and 77 that day:
Michele Heidenberger, who, along with her husband Tommie, raised two beautiful children, her daughter Alison, and son Thomas. And who in her spare time would volunteer at St. Anne’s Infant and Maternity Home holding and loving abandoned babies.
Ken and Jennifer Lewis, whose wonderful marriage is one of the many the APFA likes to take credit for. Ken, the hiker, sailor, world-class skier, and Jennifer, the relentless practical joker, brought joy to the lives of everyone they touched.
Renee May, the strong and resolute woman, the consummate professional, who will always be remembered for her sweet, soft voice.
Bobbi Arestegui, the animal lover who rescued stray, abused, and neglected pets. She was an impeccable galley. Bobbi’s best friend happens to be her sister, Nancy, an American Airlines Flight Attendant who is with us here today.
Jeff Collman, whose positive attitude and enthusiasm made everyone feel good – I have to mention that he always brought snacks and he was always willing to share.
Sara Low, whose outward beauty was only matched by that of her soul. The great conversationalist that made all-nighters so much easier to fly.
Karen Martin, whose energy and passion helped make the most out of every layover and whose infectious laugh was her trademark.
Kathy Nicosia, the formidable crossword puzzle-solver, was a devoted mother and wife, always preparing meals before leaving for her trips to ensure that her husband George and daughter Marianne wouldn’t go hungry – or burn down the house.
Betty Ong, whose heroic actions on that tragic day made her a household name, but whose sweet laugh, chronic tardiness, and warm hugs are how her colleagues remember her.
Jean Roger, who had an uncanny ability to fit in wherever she went, who was so excited to be a Flight Attendant, who truly lived life to the fullest and shared it with everyone she held close.
Dianne Snyder, the world’s best chocolate chip cookie maker, an avid tennis player, and above all, the mother to Leland and Blakeslee and wife to John. For 19 years, Di brought her laughter, smile, and quick wit on board every flight she worked. And I flew with her often.
Amy Sweeney left behind a husband, Michael, and two young children, Anna and Jack. Although she was the shining example of professionalism on the airplane, she took most pride in being a terrific mother.
Chic Burlingame, a Captain with the good sense to marry a flight attendant, Sheri. Chic was known for having fun, and getting the flight in early.
John Ogonowski also had the good sense to marry a Flight Attendant, Peg, they had three children Laura, Caroline, and Mary Kate. Captain Ogonowski was one of Boston’s favorite Captains.
First Officer Tom McGuinness was a devoted husband and father of two, Jennifer and Tom, Jr. who is now a pilot for American as well. Tom Sr. was a retired US Navy pilot and had been with American for 12 years when we lost him.
First Officer David Charlebois was kind and generous and caring, Dave had an indelible effect on everyone he met.
In the years since they flew their final trip, I’ve met many of the friends and families they left behind. It is an honor to have those loved ones with us today.
On behalf of all of the Flight Attendants that wear these wings and this union pin with such pride, I want to thank you for being here today and for sharing your loved ones with us. And to Michelle, Jennifer, Ken, Renee, Bobbi, Jeff, Sara, Karen, Kathy, Betty, Jean, Dianne, Amy, Chic, John, Tom and Dave, we love you very deeply.”