On this 5-year anniversary, bloggers from around the world are paying tribute to the people who were killed in the 9-11 terrorist attacks. This is the day to remember the innocent victims and to pay tribute to their lives.
I have the honor of paying tribute to Tom McGuinness who was First Officer on American Airlines Flight 11 – scheduled to fly from Boston to Los Angeles. Soon after take-off, the hijackers commandeered the plane and flew Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. But this isn’t about 9-11, the hijackers, or any of that. This is about Tom McGuinness – a Christian, a husband, a father, a friend, and so much more.
The first thing you notice when you look at a photo of Tom McGuinness is how strikingly handsome he was.
From The Syracuse Post Standard, comes this:
Two days before his senior prom, Tom F. McGuinness made a life-altering choice: he asked a young woman named Cheryl to be his date. It didn’t give her a lot of time to prepare, but she agreed. “I got a dress and we went to the prom, and we stayed together ever since,” Cheryl McGuinness said recently.
But then Mr. McGuinness, 42, was big on life-altering decisions. About a year and a half ago, he and his wife and children, Jennifer, 16, and Tommy, 14, decided to move back east, to Portsmouth, N.H., from California, in part so Mr. McGuinness could pursue better opportunities with American Airlines. He was the co-pilot on American Airlines Flight 11, which struck the north tower of the World Trade Center.
More significant, his wife said, was a decision he made eight years ago, while they were attending a small Bible study group. Mr. McGuinness had always been a religious man â€” the family attends a nondenominational Christian church â€” but hearing others talk about their relationship with God gave Mr. McGuinness a new perspective, and he found his faith intensifying.
That realization prompted a change in him, said his wife. “Our family strengthened, his relationship with the kids strengthened, our marriage strengthened. The way we showed love to one another deepened,” she said. “It was the biggest blessing that I could have received.”
Not only was Tom a Christian, but he allowed his Christianity to strengthen and deepen his relationships with his family and friends.
On one memorial site, a friend of Tom’s wrote:
It has taken me a while to quantify my feelings surrounding Tom’s loss. I was lucky to know Tom in college â€¦ we were on the swim team together, took some of the same classes, and lived in the same dorm. He was probably the single most important influencer in my decision to join the Navy. He was a good friend and great mentor. I miss him, his laugh and his goodness.
I have read through the nice postings that have been written on his behalf. If I didnâ€™t know him personally, I would not believe anyone could be that determined for excellence while being kind and considerate. He was truly a remarkable person who strived to find the good in everything he accomplished. I was so lucky to have known him. I am better for the experience and many people that I have influenced are better because of the lessons he taught me. Tom helped get me through some of my lifeâ€™s toughest times and will always have a special place in my heart â€¦ the sadness replaced when I recall his smile and infectious laugh.
John Allen (Marlboro, MA )
A few years after 9-11, a young woman named Jill Smith was asked by a teacher to create a collage about a devastating time in our history. Here is what she wrote on one of Tom’s memorial sites:
As an assignment for our Senior Institute class, we are to create a collage about a devastating time in our history. My partner and I wanted to create a collage about 9/11 and the World Trade Center, but after visiting this site I don’t think we can do that. The images here go way deeper than the images we found of the actual burning building. These people were inside the attacks…you don’t see that through the photos of the WTC covered in smoke or the rubble of remains from the planes. Here, nearly four years later, we still feel it. May God bless this man’s family, and as a 17 yr old daughter who adores her own father, my heart goes out towards his children!!
Tom’s parents, Tom and Edie, also wrote on his memorial page:
We are Tom’s parents, and we want to thank you all for your prayers, love and support. Tom was a wonderful husband, father and son. He cared deeply for family, friends and anyone he met. His sense of humor was special. Your notes have helped us, and we will put them in his memory book.
Tom’s wife, Cheryl, writes about him on her web page:
When I was 16 I met a young man and fell in love. As I have said on many occasions, Tom was my high school sweetheart. Our relationship blossomed through high school and college.
Tom and I married soon after I graduated from college, just knowing that we would live happily ever after. Tom progressed in the Navy as a Top Gun fighter pilot flying F14′s and I advanced in my own career. We were blessed with two wonderful children and it just got better and better.
Tom and I were Bible study leaders. Our family had much joy, peace and contentment and it flowed into all parts of our lives. Everything was fine. I was a normal woman living a very happy life. I never pictured that our dream would suddenly become a nightmare. I never imagined that our peaceful life would be completely shattered.
On September 11th, Tom gave me a kiss goodbye and left for work. Little did I know that I would never see him again. He was to pilot American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles that day.
As the horror of that day unfolded, I quickly realized that I needed God more than ever before. I was devastated – searching for answers that didn’t exist – terrified at the prospect that Tom would not be coming home.
As I have spoken with people around the country I have come to realize that while my tragedy was in many ways unique to me, many of the feelings – the hurt, the loss, the anger, concern for my family – are shared by so many others. In fact, I dare say that all of us will, unfortunately, at some time in our lives experience what I call time in the pit – that time when you feel absolutely lost, alone, afraid and devastated. It may result from the loss of a loved one, divorce, issues with children, career problems or any of the hundreds of other life issues that we all deal with.
What do we do with the pain that results from tragedies in our lives? How do we move beyond them? I have learned how to hope again. Drawing daily from the foundation of faith that Tom and I held together, I have found my footing; He has rebuilt my life.
We have all been impacted by September 11th. Security, peace, safety – things we all took for granted – become casualties of that infamous day. Every life endures saddness and loss. But my story is that no matter what you have experienced or what pain you have suffered, God can bring you through the ashes of destruction to the beauty of life.
Tom’s two children are practically grown. According to The Boston Globe his daughter is studying cosmetology, and his son is studying to be a pilot like his dad.
Tom left a final legacy for his family. Just a few weeks before his death, he and Cheryl had dinner in Boston to celebrate their 18th anniversary. From The Portsmouth Herald:
Over dinner at Legal Seafood, Tom McGuinness shared some horrifying news.
A good friend was in a coma and his wife killed instantly in a car accident. Cheryl McGuinness said she told her husband she couldn’t dream of living without him. She asked him if he thought she was strong enough to endure the intense pain of such a loss.
“‘No you’re not, but God is strong enough. Trust God and he would get you through it,’” McGuinness recalled her husband saying. “He said, ‘Trust God with your life and stay strong in your faith.’ And that’s what I do.”
Later, Cheryl and her two children, Jennifer and Tommy, remember their last night with Tom
. . .The night before he died in the Sept. 11 crash at the World Trade Center, they spent the evening celebrating his 42nd birthday. It was a beautiful celebration. After Tom returned home from a two-day trip, the family shared a special birthday dinner, complete with cake and presents.
“Jen gave Tom a love certificate for the two of them to go out to an Italian restaurant. Tommy’s gift was to spend time with Tom working in the back yard for a day cleaning up the woods and chopping down a couple of trees,” she said. “I thank God for not telling me what was coming in the hours ahead. If I knew, I would have spent our last hours pleading with God not to call Tom home. Our last night would have been very different.” . . . .
She said her husband actually helped prepare all of them for such a loss. By sharing his faith in Jesus Christ with his family, the Massachusetts native gave them a gift â€” an understanding of the circle of life.
Tom’s legacy to his family is summed up with this quote from The Portsmouth Herald:
One night Tommy tried to comfort his mother as she cried. Instead, the 14-year-old amazed her with his breadth of knowledge.
“Tommy put his arm around me, gave me a hug and said, ‘Mom, everything will be all right. Our life on Earth is so short. Our life in heaven with Dad is for eternity.’ He then went on to say, ‘Dad described eternity this way to me: If you emptied out all the oceans in the world one drop at a time, this would only be the beginning of eternity.’”