When Todd Morgan Beamer awoke on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he had no idea that he would soon be declared a national hero. He probably never imagined a high school across the country would be named after him.
The sun had just risen when he boarded United Airlines Flight 93. He was headed to California for business, but he would never make it there. The plane was hijacked as part of the Sept. 11 attacks — and all 40 passengers died when Flight 93 crashed in rural Pennsylvania.
Beamer is credited with leading a group of passengers who attacked the hijackers and foiled their attempt to crash the plane into a target in Washington, D.C.
Before the plane crashed, Beamer attempted to use a credit card to make a phone call from one of the plane’s phones. He was routed to a GTE employee and he relayed information about the hijackers. He was one of many passengers to make telephone calls from the flight.
Beamer told the employee that he and other passengers planned to attack the hijackers. The employee overheard his last words, directed to those on the flight: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”
It is not clear whether the passengers ever made it into the cockpit to attack the hijackers, or whose control the plane was under when it crashed. It is clear that the passengers’ uprising prevented the aircraft from being used as a weapon and crashing into either the Capitol building or the White House in Washington, D.C.
Beamer, a 32-year-old account manager living in New Jersey, left behind a wife and two sons. His daughter was born four months after he died.
Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way is one of three buildings named after Beamer. A post office in New Jersey and a building at Wheaton College are also named after him.
Nearly 1,000 future Todd Beamer students voted from a list of five possible names for the new high school before the name Todd Beamer was chosen in 2002. Federal Way School Board policy stated that the school had to be named after a deceased national hero. Among other names considered were aviator Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln.
Carol Everhart, a retired principal of Todd Beamer who served on the name-selection committee, said she supported the name Todd Beamer. The school opened in 2003 when the terrorist attacks and Todd Beamer’s story were fresh in everybody’s minds.
“This was a peer that the students related to, a contemporary that was part of their time and a part of the history that they were living,” Everhart said. “He was a hero with a strong moral history and it was excellent role modeling for our students.”
Although there was some initial disagreement among community members about the name Todd Beamer, it turned out to be a great name for the high school, said Mark Davidson, former deputy superintendent.
“People had really great reasons and it turned out to be a really great choice,” Davidson said.
“I hope that what it does is that, unlike more historical names, it has a more continued impact on students and what it means to be committed to a cause, you know, committed to something greater than ourselves,” he said. “We will have achieved what we wanted to achieve with a name if that continues to remind people of personal sacrifice for a common good.”
David Beamer, Todd Beamer’s father, said he and his wife continue to follow the accomplishments of students at Todd Beamer High School from their home in Florida.
“We’re very pleased to see that the students at Todd Beamer High School are doing so well,” Beamer said. “I’m very interested in them wearing the name proudly and being the best they can be in all their activities and living.”
Beamer said he hopes that the name of Todd Beamer High School reminds people about the heroism of his son and the other passengers aboard Flight 93.
“It helps to keep alive the memory of what Todd and the others did on September 11,” he said. “I hope they would look at that as a call of action to do the right thing whatever the circumstance.”
When students and staff put on their shirts, uniforms, lanyards with Todd Beamer’s name on it – even 20 years later – it serves as a reminder, said Collin Sawyer, associate head basketball coach.
“We have the honor of representing not only ourselves, our community, our families and each other, but we represent a hero that, during the darkest hour, did not hide, did not run, did not quit,” Sawyer said. “But rather, he fought. This is a responsibility that we never take for granted.”
The battle cry of “Let’s roll!” — now shouted by sports teams before any game — is a reminder to do your job, work hard, be a leader, be selfless and, Sawyer said, to always do what’s right.