Despite the horrific personal tragedy he and his family suffered on Sept. 11, David Beamer - father of Todd Beamer, the passenger who famously vowed "Let's Roll" on United Airways Flight 93 - said blessings also emanated from the events of that terrible day.
Beamer delivered the keynote address at the Operation Bugle Boy ceremony held Thursday at the St. Martin's Knights of Columbus to honor area veterans.
Without an ounce of sentimentality, Beamer talked about his son's experience on 9-11 and expressed his gratitude toward the veterans in the hall. Calling Operation Bugle Boy a "unique and special night," he said it gave him a chance to express real gratitude toward all who have "made America possible."
"Without 9-11, I wouldn't be here. But it's given me a platform to share some things that are important," he said. "And some things that you don't know about."
He described his son as a successful salesman who was headed to meet with a major client. He noted that it was a blessing that Flight 93's departure was delayed from Newark, because it disrupted the terrorists' plans. And because of cell phone technology the passengers were aware two planes had slammed into the World Trade Center earlier in the day. That knowledge of what was unfolding was a blessing, too, he said.
Time and again, he referred to the 40 people on that flight as "free."
He said once the passengers realized the seriousness of their situation, they took a vote about what to do - a reflexive American response.
He noted his son's iconic words became a part of American history because they were heard by Lisa Jefferson, the United Airways supervisor who talked and prayed with Todd in the minutes before the plane crashed.
"That's how we know he said: "Are you guys ready? Let's roll!' There was an individual witness to the reality of the moment," he said. "And our country was assured that the free people on Flight 93 fought back."
While the men and women on the flight were not soldiers, neither were they victims, he said.
Beamer believes the terrorists meant to fly the jet into the U.S. Capitol. He noted the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were intended to harm American commerce and the nation's military.
"They were killed in action. They fought back. Nobody on the ground lost their lives," he said.
"Their last guided missile failed, and that was a blessing."
Finally he said it was a blessing that his son - an organized person who habitually jotted down appointments - was a man of faith.
"But I'm pretty sure at 10 a.m. that "Meet God' wasn't on his schedule," his father said. "But it was a great blessing for the Beamer household."
"None of us know when our last day is. I really encourage all of you to be ready for it," he said.
He also asked listeners to continue to take the threat eminating from America's extremist foes seriously and noted that Sharia Law and the U.S. Constitution are incompatible. "If they have waived the white flag, I haven't seen it," he said. "We can all be watchmen on the wall."
He also offered words of encouragement to the young people in the room, exhorting them to choose a life path of integrity, passion and humility. "We all have good days and some days that are challenging. But you can decide: Am I going to be generally positive about it?" he said.
Over the years many people have told him Todd's words inspired them.
"I'm glad the country had that as a rallying cry. I would encourage all of you to make "Let's Roll' your personal call to action, to do the right thing," he said.
About 500 veterans and their guests attended Wednesday evening's four-hour ceremony. Several dozen more volunteers - from a wide variety of community organizations - were on hand to help serve the meal, park cars, wait tables and make the veterans feel welcome. Although the event is organized by a committee, retired Jefferson City guidance counselor Chris Jarboe is one of the main drivers. He was gratified by the large turnout.
"One of the main reasons to do this is to bring together young people so that they can meet and interact with the veterans," he said.
Matthew Branch, a junior at Helias, was one of many high schoolers in attendance. Branch mainly served as a waiter and chatted with the veterans about football. But hearing the speakers was energizing, he said.
"It made me proud to be an American," he said.