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A True American Hero – Marcus Flagg

Marcus “Marc” Flagg is a hero to me.  I have met a few extraordinary people in my life during my time on Capitol Hill, but Marc stands out.  He was a victim on September 11, 2001, yet he was not defeated by the terrorists who attacked the United States.  He worked through the political system to solve one of the problems that caused 9/11.  

You see, Marc lost both of his parents on 9/11.  Retired Navy Rear Adm. Wilson F. “Bud” Flagg and his wife Dee decided to fly that day.  They ended up on American Airlines Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon.  182 aircraft passengers and Pentagon employees lost their lives in the attack on the Pentagon. 

After Marc’s tragedy, he banded together with other commercial airline pilots and worked with them to arm the pilots of commercial aircraft against terrorism. He has worked night and day to improve aviation security and is a true American hero.

Marc memorialized his feelings that day in a post titled Reclaiming the Sky -Turning loss into positive action written in April of 2006.

My name is Marcus Flagg. My parents, Bud and Dee Flagg died aboard American Airlines flight 77, when it was crashed into the Pentagon. I am a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and a Navy F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot for over 10 years. Currently, I am a United Parcel Service Boeing 757/767 First Officer flying domestically and internationally. I have been involved in the Federal Flight Deck Officer program from its inception to unending improvements and continue to advocate aviation security as President of Passenger-Cargo Security Group.September 11, 2001, a Tuesday morning which irrevocably changed the world as you and I knew it. That morning I awoke to see the second aircraft impact the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I knew immediately this was the work of terrorists. My first reaction was to call my father, also a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, fighter pilot, retired Navy Rear Admiral with 38 years active and reserve service and also a retired American Airlines Captain with 31 years of experience. He and my mother were high school sweethearts who married and had a happy, successful life together. The relationship between my father and me was very close and we usually spoke on the phone at least once a week about a wide range of subjects including farming, stocks, and flying, as well as the latest news about the Navy, airlines and world events. I followed in my father’s footsteps for quite a while and relished doing so. He believed that terrorists would never strike in the United States, because their money came from us. That mistaken belief haunts me. I was unable to contact my parents that morning because they were flying to Los Angeles aboard American Airlines flight 77. I knew they planned to make the trip but not exactly what day they would leave. They often traveled on the spur of the moment. After hearing about the crash of Flight 77 and the numerous unanswered calls to their home, I had the terrible feeling that they were aboard that aircraft. My phone call to American Airlines reservations confirmed my worst nightmare.The coincidence of my parents traveling that day is eerie. They were traveling aboard an American Airlines 757, the same airline and type of aircraft that my father had flown. During his Naval service at the Pentagon, his former office was in the same vicinity as the impact area. My mother supported him through both careers and frequently accompanied him on his trips and had visited his Pentagon office.The sad fact of being an aviator and a former accident investigator is that you fully understand what takes place in an aircraft accident. I knew that the largest piece of the aircraft recovered would be maybe the size of quarter, but my worst fears were that the authorities would not find any remains from the intense fire. These thoughts were only shared with fellow pilots, because I knew how devastating this information would be to my family.

Commercial airline pilot Tracy Price wrote of the logic of arming pilots in the Washington Times on January 3, 2008 in defense of the Federal Flight Deck Officers Program (FFDO):

Consider this: Arming pilots is not a new idea. In fact, airline pilots flew armed in large numbers from the dawn of commercial aviation to 1987 with no record of incident. When the federal government disarmed pilots in 1987, many pilots predicted cockpit takeover attempts — including the late Captain Victor Saracini, who, in horrible irony, was the captain of United flight 175 on September 11, 2001 when his Boeing 767 was hijacked and crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. It was the disarming of pilots in 1987 that inevitably led to the September 11 cockpit takeovers.

Another extraordinary person I met during the post 9/11 effort to arm pilots is the wife of Captain Saracini, Ellen.  Ellen Saracini was very active in pushing for armed pilots and spoke of her husband’s strong feelings that pilots should be armed to protect the cockpit from terrorism.  Ellen Saracini is also very heroic.  Ellen and Marc stepped forward after tragedy struck in their families, yet they forged forward and showed bravery.  Both these two heroes overcame the fear of talking about the pain they have experienced in an effort to prevent the same thing from happening to other families.

Days after that attack there were hearings in the House where the idea of rearming pilots was discussed. My boss Senator Robert C. Smith (R-NH) started meetings with pilots and experts on the issue on the idea of arming pilots again.  Senator Smith and I met with representatives of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance (APSA) and the Airline Pilots Association (APA).  This is when I first met Marc Flagg and other commercial airline pilots including Tracy Price, Al Aitken, Leon Laylagian, and Jim Kraus.  

Congressman John Mica of Florida and Congressman Don Young of Alaska were working on legislation in the House while Senator Smith worked on legislation in the Senate. Marc spoke at an emotional press conference to pitch the program as did Ellen Saracini.  In no small part because of the efforts of these 9/11 victims, in the Fall of 2001, Congress passed legislation creating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and a provision in the law authorized the carrying of firearms by pilots under four conditions.

One of those conditions was that the Administrator of TSA approved of the program.  This is when the fight really kicked off, because the Bush Administration, caving to the interests of the Air Transport Association (ATA), opposed the creation of the program.  In April of 2002, President Bush’s appointee to be the head of the newly created TSA John Magaw stated at a hearing that he would not authorize the program. The Bush Administration had blocked a common sense program, therefore Marc and his commercial airline pilot friends were back on Capitol Hill to fight for new legislation to authorize the program.

Legislation was drafted in House and Senate to reverse this decision by the Bush Administration.   On September 6, 2002, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to allow airline pilots to carry guns on an amendment to the legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security. Just an hour before the vote, the Bush administration warned that the program faced serious logistical and budgetary hurdles, but Senators cast aside those concerns and said it was crucial to give pilots the right to protect themselves against hijackers.  These pilots won with hard work, going office to office, and won because they had a common sense approach to aviation security. 

Thirteen months after September 11th, President Bush signed the Homeland Security bill containing the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act. There have been problems in the administration of the program and Marc has worked with Leon Laylagain to help found the Passenger Cargo Security Group (PCSG) to address some of the problems.  Marc’s activism has not ended with aviation security issues. 

Marc wrote of some of his other projects in Reclaiming the Sky:

I became involved with a group called Circles of Influence in an effort to help the severely injured service members, their wives, widows, and orphans. This project located at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, will be a non-profit program to offer physical and psychological rehabilitation, job training, and family support completely free of charge to service members and their dependants following treatment at Landstuhl Hospital in Germany, Walter Reed Hospital, and Brooke Army Medical Center. In July 2005, Move America Forward and U.S. Central Command invited me to participate in “Voices of Soldier’s Tour”. This group of nationwide talk show hosts and documentary filmmakers traveled to Baghdad, Iraq in order give soldiers a chance to tell about their experiences. My purpose was to simply represent families affected by September 11th by showing my overwhelming support by personally thanking as many soldiers as I could. During my time in Baghdad, I visited with several hundred soldiers, who joined the military because of September 11th. I considered it an honor to meet these men and women and humbled to be in their presence. They expressed their pride in the job they are doing there. As a former Naval officer I understand and support them in their mission. Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, citizen soldiers are once again called to help and protect. Whether these soldiers serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or along our southern coast, we all owe them a debt of gratitude. During the trip I spent four and half days in Baghdad baking in 120-degree heat. I rode the Rhino Express both directions along Airport Highway, which is sometimes called, “The Highway of Death.” The little sleep I did manage was on a cot in a tent, with most of the time spent speaking directly with the soldiers. I was offered an opportunity to go on patrol with the Tennessee National Guard, Troop F, 2/278 Regimental Combat Team attached to the 4 Brigade, 3 Infantry Division at Camp Prosperity. I went with this group into the Red Zone. Downtown Baghdad is very different from the mainstream media reports. Riding in a Humvee, I saw a city very much like a big South American city. Businesses were open; people were out walking, and a typical morning rush hour. Overall it seemed calm. We stopped in an area that was severely bombed by coalition forces. Adults and children came out to greet us and we in turn handed out food, candy, and toys. In the course of the next two hours we stopped in different locations. This was an incredible sight to behold. My smile was just as big as the children’s smiles. A few of the adults spoke broken English, but their sentiments were clearly understood. Thank you. I cannot speak highly enough of the coalition forces providing security in and helping to rebuild Iraq. An Estonian combat officer traveled with me everywhere I went while I was in Baghdad. He told me that he remembers what life was like in a society that was not democratic and lacked basic freedoms. His priority while serving in Iraq was to offer the same basic freedoms that he cherishes to the Iraqi people. Along with many other coalition soldiers I had the privilege of meeting he expressed that Americans take our freedoms and democracy for granted. Out of great personal and national tragedy, I have gained a greater sense of appreciation for our nation, our freedoms, and my responsibilities as a citizen of this great republic. I would willingly have given my life to prevent the tragedy that was September 11th. Not one day has gone by since my parents were murdered that I don’t miss them terribly. As a result of my personal experiences I have become active in supporting measures that I believe will make another attack on the United States less likely and provide assistance for our troops in the global war on terrorism. There are many other important projects which I have devoted time and effort, from the 9/11 Aircrew Memorial and the Pentagon Memorial, to Take Back the Memorial at Ground Zero in New York. All of these are important not only to the 9/11 families, but to America as well.

The most prized possession I have in my office is a plane that was made for me and signed by Capts. Phil Beall, Marc Feigenblatt, Scott Lewis, Gary Boetcher, Joe Gennaro, Linda Pauwels, Denny Breslin, Bob Lambert, First Officers Rob Sproc, Al Aitken, Tracy Price and Leon Laylagian for my work to arm pilots.  This was given to me on November 25, 2002.  When Marc saw this and didn’t see his name on it he grabbed a black marker and signed the back.  I treasure that plane and am thankful that I was luck to meet, and become friends with, Marc Flagg.

When you are praying today for those who died on 9/11, the family of those souls, don’t forget the men and women in uniform who have died over the past 10 years defending freedom.  Also, give thanks for Marcus Flagg and Ellen Saracini’s heroic efforts to help right a wrong.

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