Beverly Eckert’s Journey through 9/11 and Beyond
This book project began as an effort to record the efforts of 9/11 family members to make America safer. In one way, this story is unique. There was only one 9/11. But this effort to improve security for us all has roots in a deep-seated human desire for progress and self-preservation.
All through the thousands of years, the halting but steady march of human progress has been prodded inexorably onward by episodes of great calamity. Two steps backward and one step forward. Something goes horribly wrong, people are hurt, and a switch deep in the psyche of some persons flips and goes into problem-solving mode. Human creativity and innovation has nearly always been driven by hardship, pain, and catastophe. How can we do better? is the urgent refrain. For common sense tells us that if we are to survive, we must do better.
I wanted to tell this story through the eyes of Beverly Eckert, because she had a captivating story of a great love lost on 9/11. She considered herself lucky that at least she was able to spend the last minutes of her husband Sean Rooney’s life whispering their I-love-yous. Beverly often said that on 9/11 her Sean did not come home from work, but by making the country safer through various reform efforts, someone else’s Sean could come home.
But Beverly Eckert’s post-9/11 life of activism and good works was cut short by her sudden and violent death. She was one of the 50 casualties of the crash of Continental Flight 3407 outside Buffalo, New York on February 12, 2009. By that time, I had gathered a great deal of material from Beverly, through hours of interviews and hundreds of documents. I felt that the book should now tell the story of her exemplary life as well as her work as a 9/11 activist.
I happened to bookend my five years working with Beverly Eckert in a pair of short articles for the History News Network, a web site where historians bring their insights to bear on current events. The first article describes the 9/11 Commission Hearing at which I met Beverly. After interviewing her for the article, I did some research on her background, and it was then that I learned about how she met Sean when they were both 16, how they grew over the years in love and friendship, and how she lost him that clear September morning in a hellish cloud of grey dust.
Once Beverly Eckert and fellow family members succeeded in pressing Congress to pass sweeping reforms to the country’s intelligence organizations, she did not rest. One of the issues she felt passionately about was the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and the need to move terror suspects from there to the U.S. courts system. The week before she died, Beverly Eckert attended a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss this matter. Here is my article based on her account. I have been blogging about this book project since 2008, writing about Beverly’s life, the crash of Flight 3407, and the efforts by her sisters to make regional airlines more safe. Visit the blog if you are interested in these topics.