In memory of United 93 copilot

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • U.S. Air Force Academy
On the day of remembrance that is Sept. 11, certain memories are etched into the American psyche, while others are uniquely personal.

One of the latter recurs profoundly in the mind of Air Force Academy graduate Paul Adams, now a pilot for Southwest Airlines and an Academy Liaison Officer.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, LeRoy Homer Jr., an Academy classmate of Mr. Adams, was in the air above the eastern U.S. as part of the flight crew on a plane bound for San Francisco.

As the first officer on United Airlines Flight 93, Mr. Homer met the same fate as everyone else on board. That aircraft became the fourth and final jetliner seized as part of a wide-ranging terrorist plot.

After a heroic struggle by passengers to retake the hijacked plane, Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pa., leaving no survivors.

Today, a memorial marks the crash site, and mourners pay tribute to the people who thwarted attackers, widely believed to have been targeting the White House. The flight has also been re-enacted by multiple filmmakers. 

While passengers Todd Beamer, Tom Burnett and Mark Bingham were hailed as the heroes of Flight 93, Mr. Adams said he believes his Academy classmate is no less deserving of recognition.

"I think of him often and how he was one of the first Americans to understand the unfolding horror of 9/11," Mr. Adams wrote in an e-mail. "I know he did everything he could to foil the plot, and I like to think he gave his life while alerting his passengers and rallying them to prevent the hijackers from attacking their target with his plane."

While at the Academy, Mr. Homer belonged to Cadet Squadron 31. He graduated from the Academy in 1987 and went to work for United in May 1995.

He was posthumously granted honorary membership in the Tuskegee Airmen, and a foundation was established in his name.

Mr. Adams said he did not know Mr. Homer well and had taken only a few classes with him at the Academy.

Nevertheless, he said he values their shared bond as fellow Falcons and remembers his former colleague with nostalgic reverence.

"I think it's pretty clear from the record that the pilots were not alive when the passengers decided to take the plane back," he said. "Any Academy classmate will always get my respect and my friendship, and vice versa. He died doing his best to protect his crew and his passengers."