Editor’s note: This story was originally published on September 7, 2011. It is being shared on the anniversary of 9/11.
HOULTON — Like so many Americans, Cecilia Rhoda knows exactly where she was and what she was doing when the events of Sept. 11, 2001, began to unfold.
For her, it is the day 40 homegrown heroes made the ultimate sacrifice in what has come to be regarded as this country’s first victory in a war on terrorism. It was also very, very personal.
“I was at work in my office when my husband’s secretary informed me that a plane had flown into one of the twin towers in New York,” Rhoda recalled this week. “I thought that perhaps a plane had experienced trouble and was not able to clear the building.”
As it was for so many, that innocence was shattered minutes later when a second plane slammed into a second tower at the World Trade Center, followed by the crash of a plane into the Pentagon.
Rhoda’s initial thoughts that morning were of her son who was working at an investment firm in Manhattan.
In those first frantic minutes of trying to contact her son and get as much information as possible, Rhoda said she called her sister Claudette Beaulieu Greene in Greenwich, Conn. As the sisters — both natives of Madawaska — talked, Rhoda learned that her brother-in-law Donald Greene had left that morning from the Newark airport to meet his brothers in San Francisco for a hiking trip.
“I assured [my sister] that the planes that hit the towers had left from Boston and not to worry,” Rhoda said. “We were subsequently able to reach our son but nevertheless, continued to stay glued to our computer monitors.”
The feeling of relief over the safety of her son was countered about an hour later, however, when Claudette called to tell her Don had been on Flight 93, the plane that had crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
“The rest is a blur,” Rhoda said. “Within an hour we had the car packed and were headed for Greenwich.”
Ten years later as the nation is reminded of that bright, sunny morning through countless documentaries, news accounts and tributes, those closest to the crew and passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 will gather at the crash sight to dedicate a new memorial to honor their sacrifice.
“My husband and I will be joining my sister and family in Shanksville for a four-day memorial observance of the tragic events of 9-11 specifically remembering the heroes of Flight 93,” Rhoda said.
A full schedule of planned public memorial events is available at www.honorflight93.org.
Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Joe Biden will be among the dignitaries speaking on Sept. 10 at the dedication ceremony of the Flight 93 National Memorial.
Rhoda expects that the most poignant event over the four days will be the private interment service on Sept. 12.
That ceremony will take place on what is now considered sacred ground, where Flight 93 crashed and created a large crater in a remote Pennsylvania field near Shanksville.
In September 2002, Bush signed an act creating a new national park in the area to commemorate the 40 passengers and crew who sacrificed their lives to keep four hijackers from crashing the plane into their intended target.
“I can’t help but think about the amazing people that this country lost on 9-11,” Rhoda said. “The senseless loss of talent and humanity on that day was tremendous and still continues to impact this nation 10 years later.”
On a more personal level, Rhoda said, she continues to miss and grieve not only for the loss of her brother-in-law, but for what that loss has meant to his widow — her sister — and their two children.
Claudette Greene did not want to be interviewed for this article, but Rhoda said, “My sister has been nothing short of amazing throughout these past 10 years and has dedicated her entire life since 9-11 to being both mom and dad to her two terrific children, Charlie and Jody.
“After losing her very best friend and partner she has been diligent in fostering the virtues in her children that were so important to Don: truthfulness, integrity, always do the right thing no matter what, compassion and hard work.”
Charlie and Jody Greene were 10 and 6, respectively, when their father died on Flight 93. Charlie is now a junior at Brown University, his father’s alma mater, and Jody is a junior at Greenwich High School.
Rhoda said there is no doubt in the minds of those who knew Greene — a licensed pilot — that he, if able to do so, was in the thick of things those final moments leading up to the crash and that he lived up to those virtues he held so dear.
“We have no idea what Don’s final moments were like,” she said. “That being said, Don was a ‘doer’ who could command action easily and quickly [and] we feel very strongly that if able to do so, Don was instrumental in helping to divert the plane.
“In the media and in other accounts of Flight 93 several passengers are repeatedly featured as the ‘heroes’ of the flight,” Rhoda said. “One however needs to understand that they were the ones who were able to communicate by cell phone. Don’s cell phone was in his briefcase [and] we believe he was either much too busy doing strategic planning to use it or was not able to access it due to the nature of the tense and dangerous atmosphere inside the plane.”
Regardless of those final details, the result is well documented.
Four hijackers took control of Flight 93 over Cleveland and redirected it on a southeasterly course, in the direction of Washington, D.C.
Passengers and crew members who managed to call out to report the hijacking soon learned about the other hijacked planes being flown into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon. As they realized that Flight 93 was likely part of the same plot, those on board decided to fight the hijackers.
Somehow, some of the passengers gained entry into the plane’s cockpit and forced it down short of its intended target — widely thought to be either the White House or Congress.
“Their actions were courageous and brave [and] children in schools throughout the country should be taught to recognize and emulate such actions,” Rhoda said. “The heroes of Flight 93 exemplified the best of our democratic ideals: Service to their country in times of peril [and] service above self.”
He was a hero, yes, but Rhoda said her brother-in-law would want to be remembered as an incredible husband and fabulous dad who was never too busy to take a call from one of his children, if only to simply talk about their day.
Greene, she said, was eager, inquisitive and disciplined. He had learned to love opera, to sail, ski black diamond trails and to fly at the age of 14. He was the CEO of Safe Flight Instrument Corp., a White Plains, N.Y., firm that also sponsors the Corporate Angel Network, which flies cancer victims throughout the country for treatment.
“I still miss and grieve for my brother-in-law immensely,” Rhoda said. “The biggest regret and intense hole in all our hearts is that Don is not here to share in [his children’s] accomplishments [and] that he and Claudette together are not able to ever again share in the joy of being participants and influences in their children’s destinies and sharing the togetherness of daily living.”
It’s a loss she said her sister continues to cope with every day.
As for the manner in which the media has focused more on the victims and the 9-11 aftermath in New York City, Rhoda feels that equal time and concentration needs to be given to all the victims, including the ones of Flight 93 and the Pentagon.
If anything positive can be gleaned from the events of 9-11, it is Rhoda’s sincere hope that people can learn and appreciate the importance of religious tolerance throughout the world.
This can be accomplished, she said, not by war but only through education, especially the education of children and of people throughout the world who continue to be oppressed by religious fanaticism.
“First and foremost, cultural differences must be understood and respected. This above all must be an integral part of any educational model,” she emphasized.
“We must never forget the events of 9-11-2001 and the individuals who collectively were responsible for potentially saving hundreds of lives,” Rhoda said. “Most importantly, the world needs to know and understand that because of the heroic acts of the passengers on Flight 93, the hub of our nation’s government, Washington, D.C., was saved and thus, America today is able to continue pursuing its democratic ideals.”