Melodie Homer knows how hard her husband fought to save the lives of the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93.
"He's a military man. He's very brave. He would have done whatever he could do to not have that plane harm any more people,” she said.
Ten years removed from the tragic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Homer, the widow of LeRoy W. Homer Jr., the African-American co-pilot who died along with 37 passengers when terrorists commandeered the cockpit of the San Francisco-bound 757 that ultimately crashed and burned in a field in Shanksville, is still picking up the pieces.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t cross my mind, and some days it’s not easy,” the Marlton, N.J., resident said recently. “He was a loving husband, a friend and a father. He was a good man and I want to keep his memory alive.”
Melodie has done her best to carry on the spirit of her husband, who served as a pilot in the Gulf War. She is a peaceful woman of Canadian origin. But she knows her husband’s place in history is a special one, especially as the nation prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the worst terror attack on American soil.
“Essentially, the battle against terrorism started in the cockpit of that plane,” Melodie Homer said. “It was a combination between passengers and the crew, but it started right there in the cockpit.”
For years it had been speculated that her husband and Captain Jason Dahl were killed very early in the flight by the four hijackers. But in 2002 the FBI shared with her tape of the communication between the air traffic control and cockpit that has led her to believe otherwise.
Homer is confident that the tapes make it clear that her husband was knocked unconscious and dragged from the cockpit in the initial struggle. Before the plane went down, she says, he had regained consciousness and was part of the final attack that forced the plane to abort its intended target, which was somewhere in Washington, D.C., and crash.
What she will never forget about those tapes is hearing her husband’s final words.
“He sent out the Mayday,” Homer said.
Homer will release a book this fall, “From Where I Stand,” – where she is expected to reveal much more about that tragic day.
Although she is Canadian, she has not been afraid to wade into America’s sullied political waters in the aftermath of 9/11. For instance, she opposed George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
“Why?” she said. “We were going after al-Qaida. They were the terrorists. They were not there.”
She was relieved when President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attack that also toppled the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, had been killed earlier this year. She joined Obama in New York a few short days after the madman was captured, but she still carried a heavy heart.
When she finally met Obama, he embraced her a long time and she said he wanted to hear what she had to say.
“I just told him about my husband — and he listened to everything I said,” Homer said.
She has not, however, made herself a tragic figure. In fact, she has transformed her personal tragedy of 9/11 into triumphant stories for others.
In 2002 she founded the Leroy W. Homer Jr. Foundation, which awards scholarships to aspiring pilots and helps them achieve their dreams.
The foundation has awarded money to more than a dozen pilots. A pilot’s license is expensive and can cost in excess of $10,000.
Visha Patel, a 17-year-old from Pomona, Calif., was the recipient of the 2011 scholarship, which was awarded at a fund-raising event and silent auction at the Laurel Creek Country Club in Moorestown, N.J., recently.
Patel was joined by four other recent recipients of the award, all of whom have backgrounds similar to Leroy Homer Jr.
“It is wonderful that she has done this,” Patel, who wants to become a commercial pilot, said. “It is such a selfless act. There are many people who would not think of others and their future after having experienced what she and her family went through. She is turning what is a terrible moment in her life into something very positive.”
Staff writer John N. Mitchell can be reached at (215)-893-5745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.