Terrorist attack diverted, former 445th Airman’s ultimate sacrifice

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Rachel N. Ingram
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Many Americans remember Sept. 11 as the day time stopped. Most can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when the horrific news footage began rolling across TV screens nationwide.

In less than one hour’s time, 19 terrorists overtook four flights during an unprecedented attack on American soil. The first two flights struck the World Trade Center, killing nearly 3,000 people and injuring 6,000 more. The third flight struck the Pentagon, killing more than 100 people. A fourth flight, United 93, never reached its intended target.

United 93 departed Newark, New Jersey, and 46 minutes into the flight, was hijacked over eastern Ohio. For 30 minutes, crew members and passengers worked to sabotage the terrorists’ efforts to use the plane as a missile and crash it in Washington, D.C. Phone calls and audio recordings recovered from the aircraft revealed that the crew and passengers aboard the plane made a plan and then rushed the cockpit, scuffling with the hijackers and throwing hot water at them to divert the plane.

The hijackers slung the plane from side to side, even rolled it over, to get the crew and passengers to back off, but they persisted. The hijackers were forced to nosedive the belly-up plane into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 20 minutes from the nation’s capital. The 37 passengers and seven crew members died on impact.

“When those planes went into the towers, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania, we all kind of held our breaths, thinking ‘Oh my God, I hope it was nobody I knew’,” said retired Lt. Col. Chris Clark, former deputy commander, 445th Operations Group. “I was physically afraid to call into the airline hotlines on Sept. 11. I’ll never forget that feeling.”

Later, news sources reported United 93’s first officer was 36-year-old Maj. LeRoy W. Homer, Jr., a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and former member of the 445th Airlift Wing. LeRoy and the pilot, United Airlines Captain Jason Dahl, were the first two individuals to fight back against the terrorists.

“He was very laidback,” Clark recalled. “He didn’t talk very much, and he kept a pretty low profile. Nobody ever said a bad word about LeRoy in the time we knew him.”

Clark first met LeRoy in the late ‘80s at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, where both men served on active duty. Upon completing their service commitments, they pursued commercial pilot jobs and joined the 445th Airlift Wing as Reserve pilots in 1995.

“All LeRoy wanted to do was be a Reservist, retire, and enjoy life with his wife and family,” Clark said.

LeRoy left the 445th in 2000 to work at the Air Force Academy, but the impression he left was timeless.

“He was a role model for all of us,” said Lt. Col. Mike Baker, chief, 445th Airlift Wing safety office.

The building which now houses the 89th Airlift Squadron is named in Homer’s honor, commemorating the contributions he made to the squadron, wing, and his country. With his family present, the 445th Airlift Wing dedicated the building to LeRoy in October 2008. LeRoy posthumously received numerous awards and honors, including the Congressional Gold Medal.

“When Airmen start complaining about signing a travel voucher, or completing some mundane training, all they have to do is walk across the street, read that plaque, and think about LeRoy,” Clark said. “Reflect on why you decided to serve. When you think you’ve got it bad, remember Sept. 11 and LeRoy’s family.”

This article is Part 2 of a 3-Part series, Snapshots of Service