Pipeline2, Issue #116: Heroes


Every day on the ride home from work I come over a hill on Route 208 and the New York City skyline shows itself.

About a block away from my house, I can see a most remarkable view of the Manhattan skyline. The buildings are only an inch or two tall, but they're there. From the northern end to the southern end, every last one of them stands tall.

They don't anymore.

The skyline looks toothless. Yeah, there's still the row of little teeth popping up over the horizon. But those two matching front teeth are gone and the Empire State Building stands alone over to the left.

I didn't want to talk about this whole thing today. I wanted to write about comic books. I wanted to get back to doing "the business of the country." I wanted to give you something else to think about, as the days drag on and the talking heads ponder over the situation incessantly.

But then tonight – Wednesday as I write this – the tears came to my eyes for the first time since this whole wretched affair began and I knew what I had to talk about. And I knew how it would fit onto a comic book web site.

I want to talk about heroes.

I want to talk about the one trio in particular that brought me to this point. They pushed all the right buttons, like they were out of some Hollywood script of selfless heroism. Unlike the script, though, there's no happy ending for them, except any that we might be able to provide.

United Airlines Flight 93 left Dulles bound for San Francisco. Two of the passengers on board that plane were Jeremy Glick and Thomas E. Burnett Jr. Mid-flight, they were herded to the back of the plane by terrorists, along with many others.

We can piece together the story from cell phone calls, other similar hijacking stories, and the end result of the flight.

From reports of cell phone calls made from the plane that crashed outside Pittsburgh, we know that Glick (New Jersey), Burnett (California), and at least one other passenger on board the doomed flight devised a plan to stop the hijackers.

Burnett is said to have told his wife, "I know we're all going to die - there's three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey."

Glick called his wife to tell her that he loved her and that he hoped she and their new daughter would have a good life.

Odds are that the group found out about the attacks on the World Trade Center from the cell phone calls and put two and two together. They knew that their hijacking wasn't the kind that would end in a tense standoff on a tarmac until the hijackers surrender, with their point made. They knew they were on a suicide mission.

Imagine the horror. Imagine staring death in the eyes. Would your first instinct be to blink and hide until it's over? Or to attempt something potentially suicidal in the name of something greater than yourself?

Even though they knew they were minutes away from death, they didn't stop fighting. They fought not for themselves, but for that something even greater.

We'll probably never know what happened after the clicks of those cell phone conversations. But the eyewitness accounts of their plane nose-diving right into the ground shortly after speaks volumes about what they were able to do.

Those two men and whoever else joined in, are heroes today. Judging by reports from Washington, we may have them solely to thank for the fact that the White House is still intact, a building that hasn't seen destruction since the War of 1812 when British ground troops invaded.

Glick and Burnett are my personal heroes and I hope their families realize that their selfless act of determination and sacrifice are recognized and honored by people not just from the East Coast, but also from all around America and all around the world. I can't begin to imagine the pain their families are going through, but I hope it can be tempered somewhat by the fact that Jeremy Glick and Thomas Burnett Jr. died American heroes. I'm sure when the dust clears, they will be recognized more formally as such.

They're my heroes, too, and this is the best way I have to recognize them. Please say a prayer for their families tonight.

And when you read your comics this weekend – and I hope you do, since we all need a break from the constant stream of news for mental health's sakes – realize that there are heroes out there in the real world that no narrative fiction can ever come close to.

We're used to hearing that "truth is stranger than fiction."

Well, sometimes it's also more heroic and more compelling.

Everything is OK at Pipeline HQ in Northern NJ. I thank you all for your e-mails this week. It moved me greatly to get e-mails from people all over the country and the world checking in to see if everything was OK. My family and I are, indeed, gratefully safe and sound up here.

Tuesday it's back to comics. I promise. Thanks for letting me get this out of my system.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 250 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.

With the cancellation of the Small Press EXPO this weekend, no further convention trips are planned for this year.

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