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Lisa Beamer talks to Dateline NBC's Stone Phillips about her life after losing her husband Todd on Sept. 11.
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updated 9/11/2006 11:17:10 AM ET 2006-09-11T15:17:10

This story aired on Dateline August 20, 2002

Lisa Beamer was still sleeping on the morning of September 11, when her husband, Todd, left their home in Cranbury, N.J., to catch his flight to California. A software saleman for Oracle, he was supposed to have flown on September 10, but he and Lisa had just returned from a vacation in Europe and Todd wanted another night with the kids before taking off again on business. September 11 wasn’t just a travel day for Todd. It was marked on his calendar for something he’d been wanting to do for a long time. Remembering it made Lisa Beamer smile. Stone Phillips reports.

Stone Phillips: The last day of his life was also the first day of what was supposed to be a new diet and fitness program.

Lisa Beamer: That’s right. That worked out well!

Stone Phillips: Starting September 11, Todd was really going to get in shape.

Lisa Beamer: Yes. Since college, you know, he had spent a lot of time behind a desk, and he really wanted to get that body back. And he was looking to start it all summer. But we kept going on vacation and doing different things.

Stone Phillips: You’d been in Italy packing away the pasta.

Lisa Beamer: That’s right. And gelato. But he had a little program he was going to follow for the next 12 weeks that was really going to, you know, transform him back into this college sports hero again.

September 11 transformed Todd Beamer into another kind of hero when he rallied with his fellow passengers to fight back against the hijackers of Flight 93. His now-famous battle cry, “Let’s roll,” is now emblazoned on U.S. Air Force planes across the country.

But to Lisa Beamer, a widow at 32, Todd was also an everyday hero — a loving husband, a hard worker, and a role model to their sons, David and Drew. Every day, for Lisa, there’s some new reminder of all the things Todd loved.

Lisa Beamer: Baseball was his passion. He was bound and determined that it was going to be the boys’ passion too. He didn’t have to work very hard because it was in their blood I think.

Stone Phillips: And he couldn’t wait to outfit his kids for sports.

Lisa Beamer: No, our kids have all sorts of sporting equipment already intact, ready to go.

In fact, Todd bought three-year-old David an entire catcher’s outfit, piece by piece — everything but the glove. That’s where Mom finally put her foot down.

Lisa Beamer: And I said not until you become a real catcher you can have a catcher’s mitt. And interestingly enough, I was in the basement of our home a few weeks ago cleaning out some last things that I hadn’t gone through yet. And there were some boxes down there. And I found a catcher’s mitt that Todd had bought. And I gave it to David. And he was thrilled. So, now he has the whole gear from — from Daddy.

Stone Phillips: He had bought it and was saving it.

Lisa Beamer: Yes, that was Todd.

A PRECIOUS GIFT

Buying that mitt against Mom’s orders may have been “typical Todd,” but Lisa says something else he bought — the Saturday before 9/11 — was wonderfully out of character: a bracelet she had spotted in a store in Florence.

Lisa Beamer: And he said, ‘Well, should we buy it?’ So, we stood there for probably a half hour going back and forth. And he said, ‘Let’s just get it.’ And as we walked out of the store, I said ‘I can’t believe you did that.’ And he said ‘I can’t believe I did it either.’ He was not usually a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants person like that.

Stone Phillips: He hadn’t had time to research it, to check it out, to make sure it was real.

Lisa Beamer: No. To go get his appraiser and all this. He didn’t do any of that. And he just made a very unusual decision for him. But certainly one that is really meaningful to me now.

Stone Phillips: Is that the last gift he gave you?

Lisa Beamer: It is. Besides Morgan.

Morgan, that other gift, arrived last January. She’s the third child they always wanted.

Stone Phillips: What did you think when you first saw her?

Lisa Beamer: I was obviously thrilled.

She was thrilled that she was a girl, thrilled that she was safe, thrilled that there was one more. But it was very bittersweet that he would never know her. And she would never see him.

Stone Phillips: And she’s growing up to be her father’s daughter.

Lisa Beamer: She is. She has a very calm personality. And, you know, just takes life as it comes. And that’s kind of how he was. He was a very peaceful person to be around.

But Morgan may have gotten some of that from her mom as well. In the days after 9/11, Lisa Beamer, five months pregnant, was the picture of composure. When I sat down with her and Todd’s father just one week after the attack, her poise and presence were extraordinary. But what most people didn’t know at the time was that Lisa had endured a devastating loss before. When she was 15, her father died suddenly of an aneurysm.

Stone Phillips: Was the pain of having lost your father in some way helpful to you? Having been through that?

Lisa Beamer: On September 11, I can absolutely assure you that one of the first thoughts I had was, I don’t know if the word is thankful, but appreciating the fact that I had gone through this before and all the things I had learned that I knew were going to enable me to pick up and keep walking.

Over the past year, Lisa Beamer has done more than just keep walking. In the face of adversity, she became a face of strength to many in a shaken nation, a symbol of unshaken faith.

In fact, she has become one of the most sought-after speakers on the planet. She says all the media attention has, at times, left her more than a little bewildered.

Stone Phillips: You have been thrust into a kind of celebrity status. I mean, you became very famous for something very painful. Do you ever just kind of step back and say to yourself, ‘This is all so bizarre?’

Lisa Beamer: Yes. I remember a few days after, probably a few weeks after Morgan was born, I was in Target with my kids, and I went to the checkout line and there was “People” magazine there and there’s a picture of Morgan on the cover. And I was like, I just — so many things like that you can’t put together.”

Stone Phillips: Have there been moments that you just say to yourself, ‘Todd would be laughing?’

Lisa Beamer: He would be laughing at that. Yes, recently, he and a few of the Flight 93 passengers were honored at the ESPY awards. And I was thinking, well, I know Todd can’t come back, but if there’s an opportunity for him to come back, he’s going to do it now.

Stone Phillips: Sports fan that he was.

Lisa Beamer: You know, Cal Ripken, and Dr. J., and everybody was there, and I thought, well, if this doesn’t work then he’s not coming back.

That Daddy isn’t coming back is something that Lisa has been very frank about with the kids.

Lisa Beamer: Who liked the Cubs?

David Beamer: Daddy...

Lisa Beamer: Did your team win?

David Beamer: Uh-huh.

Especially with her oldest, David. He was just 3 1/2 when Flight 93 went down. Lisa told him about it the very next day, explaining it as best she could, hoping he would somehow understand.

Stone Phillips: Something happened later that week that made you believe that he really had understood the finality of this.

Lisa Beamer: Yes. We had, obviously, a lot of visitors in our house that week. My brother-in-law was there, and David was showing him around the house. And he got to our bedroom. And my brother-in-law said, ‘Is this your mommy and daddy’s bedroom?” And David said, ‘No, it’s just my mommy’s bedroom now.’ So as painful as that was to hear, I was also thankful that he was gripping this in a really mature sort of way.

David Beamer: Mom?

Lisa Beamer: What?

David Beamer: Why are you sad?

Lisa Beamer: I’m not sad.

David Beamer: You are sad.

Lisa Beamer: Sometimes.

David Beamer: Why?

Lisa Beamer: Sometimes we’re sad because Daddy’s not here.

Lisa Beamer: He flew on an airplane with me a few weeks ago. And that was the first time he’d been on an airplane. And I wondered if he would raise any issues or concerns or questions.

Stone Phillips: How’d it go?

Lisa Beamer: It was fine. He got on, and he was having a great time watching the movie. And at one point, he leaned over and said to my mom that his Daddy’s airplane had crashed. And she said, ‘Yes, I know.’ But he didn’t have any fears or concerns for his own, which made me happy.

When David and his younger brother and sister get older, they’ll be able to learn more about their dad and what he did. Lisa has written a book for them, she says, about Todd, his family, his faith, his hopes and dreams — everything that went into making him a hero on that fateful day. What else could she call it, but “Let’s Roll.” In it, the children will also learn what their mother went through.

A CRUCIAL PHONE CALL

Stone Phillips: Unlike Deena Burnett and Lyz Glick, you did not talk to your husband by phone from the plane.

Lisa Beamer: No, he spoke to an operator.

Stone Phillips: He spoke to a GTE [Airfone] operator.

Lisa Beamer: Yes.

Stone Phillips: Lisa Jefferson. The other Lisa.

Lisa Beamer: Yes, he spoke to Lisa that day. And I’ve always been thankful that I didn’t speak to him. I wasn’t surprised that he didn’t call me. I was home alone with the kids. And as I talked to Lisa later on, she said he went back and forth quite a few times whether he wanted her to connect him to me or not, because she could have done that. But he said he didn’t want to upset me unnecessarily. He was worried about the baby. And he was just trying to do the right thing. He was just trying to do what he could to get out of there. And he thought Lisa would be better able to help him do that than I would, and he was right.

In his 15 minute conversation with Lisa Jefferson, Todd described the desperate situation on board — and asked her to tell his family how much he loved them. It was Lisa Jefferson who heard him utter, “Let’s roll” to a fellow passenger as the counterattack began. Four days after 9/11, the two Lisas spoke. And over the past year, they have stayed in touch.

Lisa Beamer: You know, if it wasn’t for Lisa Jefferson, I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now. I wouldn’t, you know, have a book. I wouldn’t know for sure what had happened with Todd. You know, I’m in her debt forever.

Stone Phillips: If you could have spoken to Todd that day on the plane, what would you have said to him?

Lisa Beamer: What would I wish I had said to him! I think truly, I would have been very hysterical. But I guess I wish that I would have been similar to what Lisa was to him, just very calm and said, you know, ‘Todd, you’re going to do the right thing here. I trust you. I love you. And you’re going to do what you can do and you’re going to make a difference.’”

Lisa Jefferson also told her that before he put the phone down, Todd asked her to recite the Lord’s Prayer with him.

Stone Phillips: You say you believe that when he recited the part about ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ that in some way, in some sense, he was forgiving the terrorists?

Lisa Beamer: I believe that in that moment, he was trying to get his heart right and know that he was in line with the person that God would have wanted him to be before he took some serious action.”

Stone Phillips: Can you ever forgive the hijackers?

Lisa Beamer: I don’t think about them a lot. You know, bitterness and anger doesn’t get one very far in life. And I won’t allow it to seep in. I won’t allow someone else’s terrible actions to turn me into a person that I don’t want to be. Whether if I could, you know, sit down next to Osama bin Laden right now, would I say, ‘I forgive you?’ I don’t think so quite yet.

What Lisa Beamer focuses on these days is trying to inspire people to follow in the footsteps of her husband, and the other Flight 93 passengers — to fight back, and give back. She started the Todd Beamer Foundation to help children affected by tragedy.

So far, the foundation has raised more than $3 million. But in the end, this famous widow would just as soon fade into anonymity and honor Todd’s memory by raising his children well.

Stone Phillips: What’s the hardest part of each day now for you?

Lisa Beamer: Not being able to call Todd and say, ‘Hey, guess what? David swam across the pool today. Or Morgan rolled over. Or did you hear that funny thing that Drew just said?’ And I have choices every day when something like that happens to just fall apart and just be incredibly sad that the grief... that is an automatic thing or to say, ‘You know what? David did swim across the pool. And that’s a great thing. Good for you.’

Stone Phillips: How do you plan to mark the one-year anniversary?

Lisa Beamer: I’ve actually struggled with that a lot — different opportunities to go to Shanksville or go to a memorial somewhere. And nothing quite seemed like the right thing to do. And I looked at the calendar a few days ago and I realized it was my boys’ second day of pre-school. I thought, ‘That’s where I should be,’ just doing the normal things that they need me for, the normal things that I’d be doing had this not all happened. Todd would want me to be there with them. So I’m just going to do a day with my kids.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

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