This article is dedicated to American Airlines employee M. J. Booth, who perished on September 11, 2001, when AA Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. It is written by Dottie Hawkins, a recently retired and proud AA employee at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, where she was a Premium Services representative in the Admirals Club. It marks the first in a new series of Featured Articles called Speak Up For America.
In my heart, I truly believe it was fate that brought me to work at American Airlines. All of us can remember where we were and what we were doing the morning of September 11, 2001. I was at home in Alexandria, Virginia, doing some last minute chores before leaving for work at the airport.
But I never got to work that day. We all know why.
I got an early morning phone call from my daughter, who told me to quickly turn on the television. And then I watched the horror unfold with my disbelieving eyes. Not long after that, I heard a huge explosion that shook the windows of our house. I soon realized that the explosion had been AA Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon. I frantically ran outside and could see and smell the smoke from just a few miles away.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, Reagan National was closed. Luckily for me, I was not one of the employees laid off. Instead, I was sent to work at the Admirals Club at Dulles Airport.
Each day as I drove to work, I had to pass by the Pentagon. The sight and smell of the smoldering ruins will live on forever in my mind and in my heart.
Our colleague and dear friend, M. J. Booth, who had worked for American at Dulles Airport for more than 40 years, was on AA Flight 77. She had been on her way to an American Airlines Credit Union meeting in Las Vegas, via Los Angeles. M. J. was one of the many innocent people who perished that day ... one of the many who was just going about her everyday business, doing her job.
About a month later, Reagan National Airport reopened. Shortly thereafter, a co-worker came by the Admirals Club distributing to every AA employee a red, white and blue pin that said, "Proud To Be American."
For me, that slogan holds two special meanings. Not only does my heart swell up with pride at having worked for such a great company, it also holds the pride I feel for my country, its ideals and its values.
So here we are five years later. Not long after the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I visited the American Airlines C. R. Smith Museum in Dallas (www.crsmithmuseum.org ). This wonderful museum houses artifacts celebrating the rich and proud history of American Airlines and our country's aviation industry.
Within the museum is a 10,000 square foot glass pavilion that houses a vintage DC-3 airplane named "Flagship Knoxville." It is a wonderful reminder of American Airlines' early history and the beginning of a golden age of commercial passenger airlines. The cost of constructing the exhibit was and still is supported by the sale of thousands of engraved bricks that make up the floor.
When I retired from American Airlines after 15 years' service in August 2005, my husband and daughter purchased one of these bricks to honor me and my service to American Airlines.
What a thrill it was for me to see that brick for the first time! As I looked down at "my" brick, a huge lump formed in my throat and I choked back the tears. It reads, "DOTTIE HAWKINS ... A GREAT AA AGENT ... A GREAT MOM AND WIFE."
I thought to myself, in some small way, because of this brick, I won't be forgotten. In the years to come, my grandson will be able to visit the museum and see Grandma's brick ... and so will his children and his children's children. Proud To Be American.
Then, slowly my eyes moved to a roped-off area of special bricks close by to mine. As I walked towards the area, my emotions became even stronger, for there were the bricks honoring those AA employees who had died on AA Flights 11 and 77, as well as bricks honoring those who had been on United Flights 93 and 175 ... all of them just innocent people going about their daily business.
As my eyes zeroed in on M. J.'s brick, many more emotions came over me. I first thought of her, her zest for life and her immense pride in working at American Airlines. She had attended a Labor Day party at our house just a few days before September 11, along with many other AA employees.
We had a sing-along that evening, and just after we all had belted out a resounding rendition of "God Bless America," someone asked M. J. when she was going to retire from AA. She firmly replied, "Never! They're going to have to take me out in a wheelchair!" Proud To Be American.
Little did she or any of us know that she wouldn't retire sitting in a wheelchair. Instead, she would be blown up in a crashing AA 757 flown at the hands of Muslim radicals, the most evil and violent human beings to walk the face of the earth.
September 11, 2001, changed my life forever ... the way I think and the way I look at life. I will NEVER forget! Hopefully, many of you will never forget. But, sadly, many already have.
Together we will face the forces of evil and secularism head on. Together, we can become the voice of good by letting the world know we will NEVER, EVER FORGET!
Always and forever, Proud To Be American.