Sept. 11 flight crews honored with sculpture

/ Source: The Associated Press

On a pedestal in a Texas intersection hundreds of miles from where terrorists crashed planes seven years ago, two flight attendants and two pilots, rendered in bronze, now care for a traveling child.

The sculpture was dedicated Friday, the Fourth of July, to honor the 33 airline crew members killed when terrorists hijacked and crashed two American Airlines flights and two United Airlines flights in the East on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hundreds of guests, many of them relatives of the fallen crew members, gathered in the north Texas heat in Grapevine to listen to bagpipes and patriotic songs, speeches about heroism, and prayers during the ceremony.

Grapevine is home to many airline employees stationed at nearby Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and American Airlines is headquartered in Fort Worth.

'In the line of duty'
American Airlines flight attendant Valerie Thompson, one of the memorial's organizers, said the project was designed to honor crew members whose efforts to stop the hijackers and alert authorities she believes have been mostly overlooked.

"We don't necessarily think of flight crews as first responders, and they were really the very first responders in uniform that day to die in the line of duty," said Thompson, founder of the 9/11 Flight Crew Memorial Foundation, which spearheaded the $1 million public monument and plaza project.

Thompson said the foundation raised about $300,000 of the cost in a grass-roots effort which consisted of numerous $1 and $5 donations. The city of Grapevine and a developer donated the land and labor for the project.

As he admired the sculpture, Marty Fangman, 59, of Keller, whose brother Bobby, 33, was a flight attendant on United Flight 175, praised the effort.

"It was a long time coming, but they did an excellent job," Fangman said, adding that he hopes organizers are able to raise funds needed to add a water feature to complete the memorial.

Bobby Fangman's mother, Ruth Fangman, 81, of Claymont, Del., said the monument honoring the flight crews was needed.

"This is such a special tribute, and I know that Bobby will be smiling down. He'd always tell me, 'Mom, get on a plane every day. Go someplace.' It's still the safest way to travel," she said.

Sculpted in hangar
Although the flight crews were based in Boston, Washington and New York, Thompson said it was fitting that the memorial be in Grapevine.

"We felt the passion here as much as anybody else in the system," she said.

Her husband, Dean Thompson, who sculpted the work in an aircraft hangar, said the horrific events caused the airline community to come together "to form a brotherhood" much like those of firefighters and police.

Shirley Hall, vice president of the 9/11 Flight Crew Memorial Foundation, said the memorial symbolizes the valor, dedication and commitment that flight crews demonstrate each day. She told the audience to remember that "the site is on sacred ground."

"Walk quietly, speak softly, pray if you will, cry if you must, but always look to the skies," Hall said. "To our heroes: first taken, last remembered, now honored."