The Age, Melbourne, Australia - September 11, 2002
A catchphrase that became a battlecry;9:11 ONE YEAR ON
In the iconography of September 11, "Let's roll", the last known words of Todd Beamer, above, one of the leaders of the assault on the cockpit of United Airlines flight 93, have become a national rallying cry. It has already joined the lexicon of immortal American phraseology. Neil Young penned a song about it; US troops heading into Afghanistan daubed the words on their equipment; George Bush invoked it to lift national spirit.
The origin of the phrase is much more simple.
But in the aftermath of the heroic but tragic effort of passengers to abort the fourth terrorist hijacking, Beamer's cry has become widely exploited, often shamelessly, for commercial gain.
In Beamer's phone conversation with an airphone operator, Lisa Jefferson, he revealed a plot by passengers to "jump" the hijacker standing guard over them, and try to take over the plane.
With voices raised and screaming in the background, Jefferson heard Beamer say: "You ready? OK. Let's roll."
Lisa Beamer, his widow, who has become something of a symbol of grace, adopts the words as the title of her book. The 33-year-old mother of three (her daughter was born in January) says it was "so Todd". It was the phrase he used to get his sons out of the house.
In the 12 months since September 11, Lisa Beamer has pieced together an account of what happened on flight 93, moments before it crashed.
Using information from the black box flight recorder (only relatives have been allowed to hear the tape) and snippets of information from people who spoke to passengers on the airphones, She concludes that the attack on the hijackers went like this:
"Big men move quickly up a narrow aisle, accompanied perhaps by a flight attendant or two carrying coffee pots, spilling boiling water on themselves as they run. A food cart is used to ram the enemy (or to break down the cockpit door). Dishes shatter and there is the sound of other objects being hurled.
"Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw is on the phone with her husband, Phil. 'I have to go,' she tells him. 'We're running to first class now.'
"Elizabeth Wainio, who has just borrowed a phone from another passenger, is talking with her stepmother. 'I have to go,' she explains, cutting her call short. 'They're breaking into the cockpit. I love you. Goodbye.'
"CeeCee Ross-Lyles is on the phone with her husband, Lorne, when the screaming starts. 'They're doing it!' she yells. 'They're doing it!"'
Anyone can use 'Let's Roll' to sell a product and, in America, anyone does, from the t-shirt and cap vendors in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (where flight 93 crashed), to its "official" use as licensed by the Todd M. Beamer Foundation, which claims ownership of the phrase.
Two days before the foundation filed its trademark claim in January, a man named Jack L. Williams, from Detroit, Michigan, beat them to it. In his application, Williams said the slogan would be used on t-shirts and windcheaters.
He was unapologetic about doing so. "I don't care what your name is, it's first in, first swim," Williams said. "It's all about good old American capitalism."
The Beamer foundation is in discussions to license use of the phrase with Coca-Cola, Ford, Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
"We believe we own 'let's roll' because Todd said it," says Paul Kennedy, a lawyer for the foundation. "We're going to do what's necessary to protect that."