September 11, 2019

Remembering Todd Beamer ’87

By Jen Underwood; First Published in “Celebrating God’s Unfolding Story”

It was supposed to be a one-day trip. He would take the early flight from Newark to San Francisco, attend his meeting, and fly back that night.

But Todd Beamer ’87 never made it back to his wife, Lisa, their two young sons, David and Drew, and their unborn child. He never even made it to California.

It was September 11, 2001.

And Todd Beamer was on United Flight 93.

Delayed more than 40 minutes on the runway, the flight took off only four minutes before an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. The pilots of Flight 93 were informed of that crash and the two that followed only moments before the four hijackers on their flight took over the cockpit and cabin. Passengers and flight attendants huddling in the rear of the plane used in-flight phones to contact loved ones and officials on the ground. Todd, trying to call Lisa, was routed to customer service, and he spoke with GTE supervisor Lisa Jefferson. “He was calm through the entire conversation,” said Jefferson, “and I tried to stay just as calm with him.” Todd told Jefferson about the hijacking; he asked her to tell his wife he loved her and their family; and they prayed the Lord’s Prayer together.

For thirteen minutes the line stayed open. Jefferson overheard Todd and fellow passengers planning to “jump on” the hijackers. They understood their plane was probably going to be used, like the other three, to carry out another attack, and they wanted to prevent that. The last words she heard Todd say were, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”

The passengers rushed the cockpit area. Though it is not known if they broke through, what is certain is that the plane did not reach its planned destination. It crashed instead in a deserted field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. All on board died, but no one else was injured or killed. The hijackers’ plan to create another tragedy had been defeated.

In the Wheaton Academy Connection published later that fall, the front cover and a memorial page were dedicated to Todd. Bible teacher Doug Scheidt who’d gone to Wheaton College with Todd and later shared an apartment with him, praised his former roommate. “I knew Todd Beamer well, and I’m proud he was a student at Wheaton Academy. In a single act that will always be remembered, he embodied what we so desire each of our students to become. This act was not a singular event, it was merely the final act of a life of humility and obedience.”

In a book written after Todd’s death, his wife, Lisa, wrote, “What made Todd different from many other men who are merely religious was not the fact that he was willing to die for his faith; the terrorists did that! No, Todd was willing to live for his faith. … Todd built his life on a firm foundation so that when the storm came on September 11 he didn’t have to check the blueprints to see if everything he had built his life on was going to stand. He knew.”

That firm foundation was begun by Todd’s parents, David and Peggy, and was built on during Todd’s years at Wheaton Christian Grammar School and then at Wheaton Academy (at that time Wheaton Christian High School). Todd’s high school basketball coach, Ned Gulbransen, loves to tell stories about the “spark” Todd displayed in all the sports he played—soccer, basketball, and baseball—and one of his favorites is of when Todd came off the bench his sophomore year at the end-of-season tournament and made a couple plays that turned the game around. But Gulbransen also says this: “I know God doesn’t really care a whit about that type of thing, but He does care a lot about how we act, how we reflect his image and how we finish the race. Todd had character. He had what it took to do the right things, and everyone: coaches, teachers, administrators, and classmates all had a small part in that. All of us can be proud and feel blessed that he became what he became and did what he did. We can feel we had a hand in the fact that when Todd met his Lord and Savior at that young age, Jesus said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”

Ten years following the crash of Flight 93, Wheaton Academy held a memorial service and dedicated a plaque commemorating Todd’s heroism. Todd’s father, David Beamer, spoke at the ceremony. “A great part of the development of this man, Todd Beamer, was because of the experience he had right here… Walking the grounds… the soccer field … the baseball field … the basketball court, and the classrooms—had much to do with the reinforcement and with helping Todd Beamer become Todd Beamer.”

Todd Beamer Wheaton Academy Soccer

At the age of 32, Todd had become a loving husband and father, a committed and honorable employee, and a godly leader in his home church. Not long after his death, the contents of Todd’s car were returned to Lisa, his wife. One of the items was a stack of Scripture memorization cards that was found in the armrest tray between the front bucket seats. The top card had Romans 11:33-36 written on it: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.” These were the exact verses that had helped Lisa during the grieving process following her father’s death when she was 15 and the exact verses she’d been memorizing the week before Todd died. These words helped her set to rest the “What if?” questions and “If only” thoughts that often plague those who lose loved ones suddenly. “Instead I must rest in the knowledge that, for some reason, God allowed these things to happen,” Lisa wrote in her book.

Just as God had prepared Todd for 9/11, Lisa came to understand that God had prepared her as well “for such a time as this.” The testimony of Todd reciting the Lord’s Prayer in his final moments coupled with his faithful life drew people’s attention to him, and many—Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Diane Sawyer, and President George W. Bush among them—wanted to talk to Lisa about Todd’s life and death. She found the Lord sustained her through all of it. “Indeed, at several points during the many interviews I did, I felt as though I were watching and listening to someone else. Clearly God was guiding my thoughts and words in ways I could hardly imagine.”

Two months after Todd’s death, Lisa shared this with a large group of women: “I’ve chosen to live in hope… because of the heavenly, eternal perspective God has given me. …(H)ope comes from knowing who is in control. Hope comes from knowing that we have a sovereign, loving God who is in control of every event of our lives.”

Todd Beamer, in his life and in his death, testified to that hope.