Choosing Action in the Face of Evil

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

By Beverly and Thomas E Burnett Sr.

Ten years ago we suffered the most devastating loss imaginable — the death of our son, Tommy. It is still impossible to describe our grief. Tommy did not die in vain. While we would give anything to have him back, his final actions in life provide us with immeasurable hope and inspiration, a gift to a nation facing new and unprecedented challenges.

Beverly and Tom Burnett, Sr. hold a photograph of their son Tom, Jr. who died during the September 11, 2001 attacks. Tom, Jr. has three daughters who are pictured behind Beverly and Tom, Sr., From left, Madison and Halley, 15 and Anna Clare 13. Photo: Jim Bovin for the Catholic Spirit. Tom was a hero on Flight 93. He and his fellow passengers were drafted unknowingly as the first citizen-soldiers in the war on terrorism. From the four telephone conversations Tom had with his wife Deena, he calmly assessed the life-or-death options they faced, developed a well-organized plan with his fellow passengers, and then acted.

Tom's last words were, "We're going to do something." And they did. Thanks to the extraordinary decisiveness, leadership and character he and his fellow passengers showed, thousands of lives were spared in Washington. Little more than one hour into the war, America won its first battle against terrorism.

Tom was a man of faith, integrity, wisdom, wit, compassions and courage.

He was born prematurely on May 29, 1963, at St. Mary's Hospital. He had to fight for his life in the beginning and he fought for his life on September 11, 2001. Tom was baptized, made his first Communion and was confirmed at St. Edward's Church, Bloomington, Minnesota. He attended Mass regularly, prayed and believed in prayers by others. He had a close relationship with the sisters known as Poor Clares, who received a letter from him on September 11, 2001.

Tom attended the Bloomington Schools, graduated with honors from Jefferson High School and played quarterback on the Jaguar football team. He was appointed to the Air Force Academy, graduated from the University of Minnesota, was president of the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity and earned an executive MBA from Pepperdine University.

Tom would have been a success at whatever he chose in life. He was bright, driven and competitive. He had a very strong sense of right and wrong and was solidly grounded in the strength of his own convictions. He provided sound leadership as chief operating officer and senior vice president with Thoratec Corporation. Tom was very proud of his company and its mission in the medical device industry.

Tom always said the best summers of his life were spent as a child near Brainerd, Minnesota. He was an outdoorsman and enjoyed countless fishing and hunting rips with his father and a close family friend, Monsignor Joe.

Tom was an exceptional husband, father, son, brother and uncle. Even with a busy schedule and living on the West coast, he did whatever he could to minimize the distance. The frequent trips to Minnesota , phone calls and emails kept him close to his family in Minnesota .

Tom's keen wit and humor could lighten any situation. The impromptu impersonations of Bill Murray were a classic family favorite. Every Christmas, Tom would insist the family watch "It's a Wonderful Life."

In August 200l, Tom traveled to Minnesota. We were fortunate to have the time together as a family. That weekend, Tom truly touched each of us with his presence. He spent time at his farm with his father, dined with the entire family, cheered for his niece at a soccer game, attended church with his mother and shared a glass of wine, and sang and dance to a Neil Diamond program on cable. These recent memories live on in our hearts.

Tom was an avid reader, and family members could always expect his gifts would be books.

Tom passionately studied the lives of many great figures in history. One of his favorites was Winston Churchill. Tom appreciated his quote: "I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

Tom had just read a biography of John Adams, who once said, "A taste for literature and a turn for business, united in the same person, never fails to make a great man."

We hope every American finds his or her own way to contribute to the war on terrorism — and to act with the courage Tom showed from this day forward. "We're going to do something."

On this tenth anniversary, let us all pledge to "do something," something hopeful, something kind, something bold, and something right.

Beverly and Thomas E Burnett Sr. are the parents of the late Thomas Burnett, Jr., one of the heroes of the on-plane revolt against the hijackers of Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Burnetts are members of St. Dominic's Parish in Northfield, Minnesota.