On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Todd Beamer, a 32-year-old Account Manager at Oracle, rose early to catch United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco for a business trip. As part of his morning routine, he snapped the clasp shut on the two-tone jubilee bracelet of his 36mm Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph before heading out the door at 6:15 am, leaving his pregnant wife, Lisa, and their two children at home.
After a 42 minute delay, he boarded Flight 93; it departed from Gate 17 at Newark Liberty International Airport and took off at 8:42 am. At 9:28 am, the calm Tuesday morning flight was interrupted when Al Qaeda hijackers, led by Ziad Samir Jarrah, used box cutters and a supposed explosive device to take control of the plane and divert the aircraft back east towards Washington D.C.
The hijackers moved Beamer and the other 43 passengers to the rear of the plane. Using cellphones and seatback phones, the passengers contacted loved ones and airport officials and learned that three other aircraft were weaponized and deliberately crashed into some of our nation’s most important buildings: the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Beamer and other passengers acted fast and stormed the cockpit in an effort to take back the aircraft. Beamer’s last words were recorded through the seatback phone.
"If I don't make it, please call my family and let them know how much I love them...Are you ready? Okay, Let's roll."
At 10:03 am, Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, just 20 minutes flying time from the terrorists’ intended target: the U.S. Capital. Beamer and a number of other passengers had thwarted Al Qaeda’s plans.
Beamer’s gold and steel Rolex was found among the debris from Flight 93. While the hands are disfigured and the sapphire crystal is gone, the date window–frozen in time– still reads “11.”
His watch is a two-tone 18k yellow gold Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph, likely reference 16263, with a champagne tapestry dial. Despite the use of precious metal, the watch was originally developed as a tool watch in the early 1950s with a bidirectional bezel for timing. Nicknamed the “Thunderbird,” it was issued in the late 1950s to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron pilots, with the famed unit’s insignia on the dial.
Late 1950s Rolex advertisement.
Hanging on the wall of my office is an old Rolex advertisement that I see everyday. The copy, in bold, reads,, “Men who guide the destinies of the world wear Rolex Watches.” The ad is clearly meant to conjure up images of Presidents, Generals and Diplomats– but what Beamer did that day is exactly what the ad says: he changed the course of history. Had he and the other brave passengers on the plane not acted, the aircraft would have continued to Washington D.C. and likely inflicted significant harm on the U.S. Capital, the heart of American democracy.
(Left photo credit: Bob’s Watches, Right: Unknown)
Beamer was an ordinary American who showed extraordinary courage during a time of need. He was a man of action. Like most great men, the man made the watch, not the other way around. The fact that he was wearing a Rolex is insignificant, but the watch lives on as a memorial to him and his fellow passengers that made the ultimate selfless sacrifice on the morning of September 11th, 2001. Beamer’s legacy lives on beyond his parting heroic action. Lets Roll became a unifying command, a battle cry for America in the Post-9/11 era. Troops deploying to Afghanistan months later would use this as a motivational phrase to bring the fight to the enemy. Years later when I traveled to war zones, “Let’s Roll” was still commonly heard before departing on an operation or seen painted on a gym wall at remote U.S. Government outposts.
Today, Beamer’s mangled Rolex is on display in the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City, along with an Oracle business card discovered in the wreckage, both donated by his wife, Lisa, to honor his sacrifice and legacy. The date window still chillingly displays the day that the world changed forever; “11.”
Beamer’s father, David Beamer, would later remark to the New York Times, “The function of the watch is supposed to be to tell time. What it doesn’t tell is what time it is anymore. What it does tell is what time it was. It marks the time that a successful counterattack on Flight 93 came to an end.”
There are few actions more selfless than sacrificing your life for another, and that’s exactly what the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 did. Had the airplane continued to Washington D.C. and struck the U.S. Capital, scores of elected officials, civil servants, and innocent civilians would have perished.
Like Beamer on the morning of September 11th, 2001, countless men and women would choose to roll into action and answer the call to serve in the wake of 9/11.
This Dispatch is in honor of the 2,977 people who died on September 11th, 2001 and Todd Beamer’s wife, Lisa, and their three children. Please consider a donation to the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
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This newsletter has been reviewed by the CIA’s Prepublication Classification Review Board to prevent the disclosure of classified information.