On September 11, 2001, 40 people died when Flight 93 crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Thanks to the heroic actions of a few passengers, an even greater tragedy was prevented. According to U.S. officials, the hijacked plane was en route to the White House.
In 2001, Maria Shriver interviewed Deena Burnett, the wife of Tom Burnett Jr., one of the brave passengers who fought back against the terrorists. To this day, Maria says it was one of her most moving interviews.
Tom flew cross-country so often for business that the woman he proposed to, Deena, was a flight attendant. When their daughters—Anna Clare and twins Halley and Madison—were born, Deena stopped flying.
When the horrific events of September 11 began to unfold, Deena says she wasn't sure if her husband was in danger, but she knew he was planning fly home from New York that morning. Then, the phone rang. "It was Tom," she told Maria. "He said, 'I'm on the airplane, United Flight 93, and it's been hijacked.'"
Deena immediately called 911. While she was talking to the FBI, Tom called again with an update. "He said they were in the cockpit, and he hung up again," she said. "I remember hugging the telephone, waiting for it to ring."
Then, Tom called again. "He said, 'We can't wait for the authorities. We have to do something,'" Deena said.
Fifteen seconds later, Deena spoke to her husband for the very last time. "He said, 'Okay, there's a group of us, and we're going to do something.' I said, 'No. Please sit down and be still and be quiet. Don't draw attention to yourself,'" she told Maria. "And he said, 'No. If they're going to drive this plane into the ground, we've got to do something.'"
After that, Tom hung up the phone...and never called again. Deena says she held onto the telephone for three hours, until the battery ran down.
Many tears have been shed over the years, but Deena says she and her daughters are now living happy lives.
"Thanks to faith in God, a wonderful family who has loved us and helped us, and the support of a grateful nation for what Tom did, we are doing really well," she says. "Six years later, we remember, we still love him, talk about him, think about him, and try to honor him every day in our actions in raising these children."
Halley, now 11 years old, says her mom always encouraged her to share her feelings. "My mom would always come to me in my bedroom, and she would say, 'Do you need to talk about anything?' And most of the time, I would say yes," Halley says. "She said that it was always okay to cry."
Deena says she thinks about Tom every day and tries to honor him by being a good parent. "I think that his imprint is on these three children," she says. "They try every day to be heroes on their own."
Tales of true heroism have come to light in the years since September 11, 2001. New York City firefighter Stephen Siller is one man who didn't run from danger...he ran toward it.
At 8:30 a.m. that morning, Stephen headed home after working the night shift at his Brooklyn firehouse. He had planned to spend the day golfing with his brothers, but when he heard about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, he turned his truck around.
On his way back to New York City, Stephen got stuck at the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, which was already sealed off to traffic, according to his family. Instead of turning back, he strapped 75 pounds of gear onto his back, abandoned his truck and ran through the tunnel...straight for the burning buildings.
"What must have been going through his mind running through that tunnel with gear on his back...he has a wife and five children. You have to be torn running through," says Frank, Stephen's brother. "He knew that he was a firefighter. His job is to save people."
Stephen ran through the tunnel and straight for the World Trade Center, where he lost his life when the towers collapsed. More than 340 firefighters and paramedics also lost their lives that day.
To honor Stephen, his loved ones host an annual charity event, the Tunnel to Towers Run. This 3.1 mile run retraces Stephen's footsteps on that fateful day. Some participants even wear firefighter gear while they run...just like Stephen did.
As the runners make their way through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, they pass photos of fallen firefighters who, along with Stephen, courageously ran into the towers hoping to save lives.
Stephen's family has also raised funds for the Stephen Siller's "Let Us Do Good" Children's Foundation. The donations help provide housing for orphans, money for burn centers around America and scholarships for children who have lost a parent in the Iraqi war.
Today, Oprah invited 92 of his family and friends to the show, including his wife, Sarah, and their five children. She also invited hundreds of New York City firemen, policemen, Port Authority workers and rescue workers to be a part of the show.
"We thank you," Oprah says.
"Six years ago today, remember how devastated we all were, but how, in spite of that devastation, how connected we somehow felt?" Oprah asks. "In our darkest moment, so many of us were able to reach out to each other and create a new kind of light. A light of respect, a light of compassion and caring for one another, a light of trying to understand what it's like to stand in somebody else's shoes. ... What I know is we all want that feeling back. We want to bring back the light. Let's not wait for the next disaster to extend ourselves in peace to one another again."
Watch Oprah's tribute to some of the moms and dads who died on September 11.
"I carry the sacredness of [the victims'] sacrifice with me," Oprah says. "I think we owe them all our own personal resurrections. We owe them our best. We owe them our most just, our most fair. We owe them what the deserve—a really good life."
Printed from Oprah.com on
© 2014 OWN, LLC. All Rights Reserved.