ALO shares memory of United 93 co-pilot

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
On the day of remembrance that is Sept. 11, certain memories are etched into the American psyche. But others are uniquely personal.

One of the latter recurs profoundly in the mind of Air Force Academy grad Paul Adams, now a pilot for Southwest Airlines and Academy Liaison Officer. The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, an Academy classmate of Adams', LeRoy Homer Jr., was in the skies over the eastern United States as part of the flight crew on a plane bound for San Francisco.

The first officer on United Airlines Flight 93, Mr. Homer met the same fate as everyone else on board. That aircraft became the fourth and final jetliner seized as part of a wide-ranging terrorist plot. After a heroic struggle by passengers to retake the hijacked plane, Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., leaving no survivors.

Today, a memorial marks the crash site, and mourners pay tribute to the people who thwarted attackers widely believed to have been targeting the White House. The flight has also been re-enacted by multiple filmmakers.

Actor Gary Commock played Mr. Homer in the movie "United 93," and he is listed second in the film credits posted on the Internet Movie Database. Although passengers Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Mark Bingham were hailed as the heroes of Flight 93, Mr. Adams believes that his Academy classmate is no less deserving of recognition.

"I think of him often and how he was one of the first Americans to understand the unfolding horror of 9/11," Mr. Adams wrote in an e-mail. "I know he did everything he could to foil the plot, and I like to think he gave his life while alerting his passengers and rallying them to prevent the hijackers from attacking their target with his plane."

While at the Air Force Academy, Mr. Homer belonged to Cadet Squadron 31. He graduated from the Academy in 1987 and went to work for United in May 1995. He was posthumously granted honorary membership in the famed Tuskegee Airmen, and a foundation was established in his name.

Mr. Adams said he did not know Mr. Homer well and had taken only a few classes with him at the Academy. Nevertheless, he values their shared bond as fellow Falcons and remembers his former colleague with nostalgic reverence.

The experience of the flight crews on United 93 and the three other planes hijacked that day also affected Mr. Adams' personal and professional life, giving him even more cause for reflection. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, he was a reservist in the 97th Squadron at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, Wash.

His wife, Anna, part of the Academy's Class of 1991, was employed by United Airlines, and he was hoping for a job offer from Southwest. Despite the rough times for the airline industry in the wake of 9/11, the job offer did eventually come - just days before Mr. Adams' unit was summoned for duty in Iraq.

When he returned home, there was an addition to the family. In an unexpected development, Anna had delivered the couple's third child. Mr. Adams finally started his job at Southwest, three years and 11 months after he'd received the offer from the company.

"It's not the future we had imagined, but ... we're better off for it," he said. "We've managed to get through the worst of it. You also look at things differently. You realize how special this country is and how much we have that's worth protecting."

In his chosen profession, practically every procedure has been changed in response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, he said, adding that "any disturbance from behind is going to cause the cockpit to assume that an attack is in progress."

The cause of those changes, of course, was something that shook Americans to their core while claiming the life of one of Mr. Adams' compatriots in the Long Blue Line.

"I think it's pretty clear from the record that the pilots were not alive when the passengers decided to take the plane back," he said. "Any Academy classmate will always get my respect and my friendship, and vice versa. He died doing his best to protect his crew and his passengers."