The last known words of Todd Beamer, who lost his life when United Airlines Flight 93 went down in a Pennsylvania field, are among the most famous in history. Before the sacrifice of Beamer and the 36 other passengers and 7 crew members, “let’s roll” was just a phrase. But since that chilly September morning, it has become a rallying cry.
Unlike the other hijacked planes on 9/11, Flight 93 was in the air for almost an hour before the terrorists overtook the cockpit. Passengers were able to call their loved ones and learn of the tragedy at the World Trade Centers. As the plane moved over the east coast, a group of patriots on board decided to go down fighting. Tom Burnett, 38, told his wife, “we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it.” Jeremy Glick’s last words to his spouse were “we’re going to rush the hijackers.” But it was 32-year-old Todd Beamer who uttered the last known words on the doomed flight — “let’s roll.”
Beamer, who spent his days as an accounts manager in New Jersey, was married with two sons. He did not call his pregnant wife, because he didn’t want to upset her — instead he dialed the GTE-Verizon operator. Lisa Jefferson, who was on the other end of the line, describes Beamer’s voice as “very calm” and “soft spoken” as they recited the Lord’s Prayer together. She notes that “let’s roll” wasn’t shouted; it was a solemn confirmation of duty.
Neil Young was one of the first to honor Todd, with his song “Let’s Roll,” released in November of 2001. In the single, Young crows “Let’s roll for love/We’re going after Satan/On the wings of a dove/Let’s roll for justice/Let’s roll for truth.” In 2002, Air Force Chief of Staff John P. Jumper announced that one plane in each squadron would bear an image of an eagle and American flag with Beamer’s final words emblazoned in gold. Beamer’s widow, Lisa, was at an unveiling ceremony for one of those planes.
Now, the Todd Beamer Foundation owns the rights to the phrase. Anybody seeking to make money from the patriot’s rallying cry have to answer to them. Such was the case in 2002, when the Florida Seminoles football team wanted to use “let’s roll” as their motto. But those two words, which represent the what it means to be American, can be spotted everywhere, from NASCAR vehicles to NHL hockey rinks. And, perhaps the most meaningful place you’ll find Beamer’s quote, is etched into a rock in a nondescript field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where Flight 93 met its end.