Terrorists must never ground us
Thursday, June 1, 2006

By Virginia Buckingham
Boston Herald Columnist

My house lies almost directly under the southwest approach for planes landing at Logan Airport. So, I have the daily pleasure of first hearing, then seeing, one of man's most astonishing accomplishments: the lifting to the sky of ordinary human beings by flying mechanical giants.

On busy arrival nights, I can be lulled to sleep by the sonorous roar of aircraft engines. Often, I see planes in my dreams, too - ordinary, everyday flights crossing a bright blue sky. I wake up, usually, just as those imagined flights end in fire and smoke or, sometimes, debris spread over the water.

We all remember when that horror was not just a bad dream. And there are some who carry the memories a bit closer - the families of 9/11 victims, certainly, and workers and witnesses at Ground Zero, but also the thousands upon thousands of airline and airport employees who lost colleagues and friends and not a small bit of innocence one ordinary workday in the fall of 2001.

The remarkable yet rarely remarked upon thing is that beginning on Sept 13, 2001 and every day since, those same men and women have kept America flying - swallowing whatever fears they may have, dealing with the financial strain of an industry turned upside down, and, not least, mourning the end of the romance of flight which drew many to their aviation careers in the first place.

Do you ever wonder why they still fly?

One man did. Tom Murphy had worked with aviation employees for years as the head of the Washington State-based Service Institute. For five years, he ran a customer service training program at Logan, nurturing in gate agents and taxi drivers alike the ideal of serving others as airport "ambassadors."

On the morning of 9/11, two Logan-based United Airlines employees he had trained, Marianne MacFarlane and Jesus Sanchez, had the choice of four flights to join other colleagues for a few days off in Las Vegas. They were seated in the first row of United 175 as it pushed back from the gate at 7:58 a.m. In all, some 20 Boston-based crew members were lost on that flight and American Flight 11.

Murphy's search to find a common theme in what continued to motivate America's aviation work force turned into a book, due to be released this fall, called "Reclaiming the Sky: 9/11 and the Untold Story of the Men and Women Who Kept America Flying." Out of the book grew a Web site (www.reclaimingthesky.com) and a mission: to help aviation employees find peer support to recover from the trauma of 9/11.

A message board was recently added to the site and its initial postings are poignant: "Blue sky. That's all I want as we approach the fifth anniversary, is to have my love for blue sky back. Rather than let that one day color them all, I want to take that one day as an aberration and focus on the beauty of blue skies again," wrote one aviation employee.

Another posting seeks to keep other aviation employees from being unpleasantly surprised by a movie trailer preceding screenings of "The Da Vinci Code," depicting the twin towers burning in a scene from an upcoming Oliver Stone 9/11 feature film.

Debbie Roland, a Washington, D.C.-based American Airlines flight attendant, points out that while 9/11 "isn't on everyone's plates every day," it is front and center for aviation employees. She expects the coming fifth anniversary and Hollywood's new focus on the attacks to bring emotions to the surface. People say "just move on, but you can't do that if you're directly involved," Roland said. "You can't get over it but you can move forward."

The "reclaiming the sky" Web site and message center will be introduced to Logan's airline station managers June 27.

"We're not going to let them take our sky away," Roland said.

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