Friday, June 16, 2006

Heroes Memorial Garden

The man-made waterfall spilled over the mountain’s edge and seemed to disappear into the Pacific Ocean. On a recent visit to Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, I spent a quiet half hour atop the highest point of the campus in the Heroes Memorial Garden, dedicated to the memory of freedom’s heroes and Thomas E. Burnett Jr., an alumnus of Pepperdine, who died on September 11, 2001 aboard United Flight 93.

The day my sister Sherry and I visited the memorial, the sun warmed the air to a perfect 68 degrees. Waist-high rock walls separate the garden into airy rooms, and a hilltop breeze rustled the branches of exotic plants. Placed throughout the garden are large inscribed rocks with quotes from past and present heroes. Their words ushered our thoughts.

On September 11, Thomas Burnett phoned his wife Deena four times within 30 minutes. During that half hour, the airline passengers suffered the grim realization that the hijackers on Flight 93 were on a suicide mission to attack national targets in the United States. In his third phone call to Deena, he said, “We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together.”

In the fourth and final phone call, Thomas Burnett said, “We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area. We’re going to take back the airplane.” Deena, a former Delta Airline flight attendant, responded in the exact words taught in training. “No! Sit down, be still, be quiet, and don’t draw attention to yourself!”

Her husband replied. “We can’t wait for the authorities. We can do it.” Accepting his decision, Deena asked what she could do; he said, “Pray, Deena, pray.”

Her final words to him were, “I love you.”

His final words to her: “Don’t worry. We’re going to do something.”

In speeches, Deena Burnett says about her beloved, “I want you to know, while he will be remembered as a hero, he was much more than that. He was a man of heartfelt compassion, deep convictions, love, and had a keen sense of right and wrong, and he believed that morals and values were not debatable. To have died with such honor and valor is befitting of my husband.”

She also says, “He was a loving husband and father who adored his three young girls. He worked hard, was respected by his colleagues, and, on a daily basis, practiced quiet acts of integrity, honesty, respect, and kindness toward those with whom he came in contact.

She goes on to encourage audiences to honor the heroes of Flight 93 by living each day true to their convictions. The following words from Deena Burnett are etched in stone in the Heroes Memorial Garden: Remember that heroes can give their lives all at one time, or they can give a little each day.

On this weekend of honoring fathers, I salute all the everyday heroes: the dad in Africa who carries his child out of a war torn region to a refugee camp; the corporate-working dad, who remains devoted to his wife and children; the dad who is now known as Grandpa; the dad who has made mistakes but seeks another opportunity with his wife and kids.

Etched in stone on the path leading out of the Heroes Memorial Garden are these words: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Dads who are heads of state, and dads who collect household garbage, you have our admiration. You are everyday heroes. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, and it does not go unnoticed.

You may contact Cathy at

To read more about Thomas E. Burnett Jr. Family Foundation visit

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