The 61-year-old mother of Mark Bingham, one of the heroes aboard United Flight 93 who died on 9/11, is in Shanksville, Pa., today for the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, a national movement taking place in 24 cities. Organized by the nonprofit My Good Deed, San Francisco’s large-scale event will be held at the War Memorial Veterans Building at 9:30 a.m.
What does the 10th anniversary of 9/11 mean to you in that your son Mark was one of the passengers who stormed the cockpit?
I’m so grateful to America for remembering the sacrifice of the guys on board United Flight 93. It means a lot to me and I’m so grateful that Mark is remembered as a hero and as a gay man who stood shoulder to shoulder with a handful of other guys — straight guys — and died on their feet fighting to save lives on the ground.
You communicated with Mark while he was in the air. Can you tell us about that day 10 years ago?
I was visiting the home of my brother Vaughn and his wife, Kathy, when the phone rang. I heard Kathy speak to Mark. She told me to come talk to Mark and that he’d been hijacked. She handed me a note of paper that had the number 93 written on it and the word United. She handed me the phone and I heard Mark say, “Mom, this is Mark Bingham; I just want to tell you that I love you. I’m on a flight from Newark to San Francisco, and there are three guys on board who have taken over the plane. They say they have a bomb … you believe me, don’t you, Mom?’ I said, “Yes, Mark, I believe you.”
You and Mark were disconnected. How did you react after talking to him?
After we were disconnected, my brother, my sister-in-law and I stood in the kitchen trying to think of things to do. Vaughn suggested to call him back on his cellphone and tell him that he had to get control of the airplane with some other people and make a run on the cockpit because there was no help coming to him from the ground. Vaughn was several steps ahead of me in his mental process. We tried to reason and Vaughn actually said, “Maybe now that they’ve actually hit the World Trade Center twice, maybe they’re going to land this plane safely.” And even as he said it, I knew that he didn’t think that was going to happen.
You left two voicemails on Mark’s cellphone urging him to get control of the plane — two messages that he never heard?
I have relived that phone call a lot of times. I just wish I’d been prepared to tell him specific instructions. But the truth is that he didn’t need to be told that by his mom. He had spent most of teenage and adult life battling with other people on the rugby pitch.
How have you honored the memory of your son?
He had some real able help on that day, and that’s one reason why I have become such a spokesperson for competitive sports and rugby for school kids. I see what influence competitive sports had on Jeremy Glick and Todd Beamer, who graduated from Los Gatos High School the year before Mark did. I think that kind of teamwork really made a difference for them and by extension for America that morning.
What’s your affiliation with My Good Deed?
I’m happy to say that I’ve been a proud member of My Good Deed since its inception in 2002. I encourage everybody to go to their website, www.911day.org. And if people would do that, they will have an opportunity to tell everybody what they are going to do on 9/11 to remember the courage and spirit of unity that first showed itself on the original Sept. 11.