'Carry That Message': Grandparents Remember 9/11 Victim
Sitting in the living room of his Pinehurst home, Frank Guerra remembers his granddaughter’s first flight like it was yesterday.
Deora Bodley was 4 years old when she was coming to visit Guerra and his wife in Detroit about 26 years ago. The anxious grandparents waited patiently at the gate for her to deplane.
“Deora always slept on the plane,” he says. “My wife (Pat) and I are standing there, and everybody is off the plane. ‘Where is Deora?’ And then the flight attendants are getting off the plane, and I said, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I’ve got a 4-year-old granddaughter who hasn’t gotten off the plane yet.’ They went back and she was still sleeping in her seat, and they had to roust her up. Every time she got on a plane, she slept.”
Today, Guerra, his wife Linda, and his daughter — Deora’s mother, Deborah Borza — will remember the last time Deora flew on a plane.
Bodley was one of the 37 passengers and seven crew on United Airlines Flight 93, bound for San Francisco from New Jersey when it crashed in a field in Stonycreek Township, Pa., after four terrorists hijacked it on Sept. 11, 2001.
That day, al-Qaida terrorists also hijacked three other planes, crashing two into the World Trade Center twin towers in New York and another into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C. Today marks the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
The memories of their granddaughter become even more vivid on the anniversary of that fateful day.
At 20, Bodley — who was born in San Diego and had attended La Jolla Country Day School — was a rising junior at Santa Clara University in California.
She has been described as a “bright light,” someone who was fiercely independent and a leader — “the future of the country.”
Bodley loved interacting with kids and animals. She was a volunteer at a San Diego-area animal center and was also active in TRACE — Teens Respond to AIDS with Caring and Education — a peer education program in which teens talked to fellow high school students about sexually transmitted diseases.
At Santa Clara, where she majored in psychology and French, Bodley was active in America Reads, in which she tutored children at a local elementary school. She had been in New Jersey visiting friends and was heading home. She arrived early at the airport, and there were two flights scheduled to leave that morning for San Francisco.
“There was enough room on the first plane,” Guerra says. “So she got on it, instead of the second plane, which she was scheduled to go on.”
‘What She Would Be’
A decade later, Guerra wonders what might have happened if Bodley hadn’t boarded that fateful flight.
“What do you do when you lose a granddaughter?” he asks. “The thing about it — she would have been 30 today, and when a young person passes on, you always think of what she would be if she was still living.
“With her, I mean, she could have been a teacher — she loved children. She could have taken up psychology. She was fluent in French. I could have been a great-grandparent. I could have gone to her graduation and her wedding. So those are all the things you think about when a young person leaves this world.”
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Frank Guerra first learned of the attacks when he stopped by the General Store in Foxfire and, like so many Americans, watched the first plane strike the World Trade Center’s North tower.
His initial reaction was that this was akin to an incident from the 1940s when a bomber accidentally flew into the Empire State Building.
“I don’t think they knew what was going on until the second one crashed,” he says.
At the time, his daughter, Borza — who now lives in Foxfire Village — was living in California. He says she was unable to reach her daughter by phone and called her parents to see if they had been in touch with Deora.
Eventually, Borza contacted the airlines and obtained the flight manifest and discovered that her daughter was on the plane.
“She called us and we talked to her on the phone,” he says. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Guerra still has memories of his granddaughter. He recalls trips to the Detroit zoo, spending summers at Myrtle Beach and hanging out in Foxfire watching geese. And, of course, there was the time Deora came to Detroit as a small child and saw snow for the first time.
“We had gone into the restaurant for dinner that night and when we came out, it was snowing,” Guerra says.
One of his fonder memories of Deora is when she was a teen and was visiting her grandparents here in Moore County.
“My first wife was going to be 65 years old, so I had a surprise birthday party for her at Rafaelle, and I didn’t tell anybody,” Guerra says. “She was so upset with me because I didn’t tell her where we were going or that it was going to be a surprise birthday party for her grandmother, and she said, ‘Grandpa, I wouldn’t have told anybody.’”
Now, telling everyone about the heroes on Flight 93 is a large part of what Borza and the Guerras do, thanks to a program called “93 Cents for Flight 93.”
The program is a grass-roots movement started by The HALO Foundation based in Akron, Ohio. It seeks to educate the youth on the concepts of heroism, patriotism and courage, by uniting students with seniors to explore the meaning of these concepts — and to raise money for the funding of the construction of the National Flight 93 Memorial, which is being dedicated today at a ceremony attended by President Obama.
Linda Guerra, who married Frank four years ago, several years after Pat died, says the program serves as a history lesson for younger generations, who may not remember what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. It allows teachers and students to get engaged in and get excited about history.
“Right now, it’s just a paragraph in the history book,” Linda says. “And as long as we are around, we can keep educating people, and they can carry that message forward.”
On that fateful September morning in 2001, four hijackers breached the cockpit on the flight and took over control of the plane. It is believed they intended to crash the plane into the White House or another target in Washington. Passengers on the plane fought back against the terrorists, forcing the plane to go down in Pennsylvania and preventing it from hitting its intended target.
“These people on this plane, they represented us that day,” Linda Guerra says. “And you’d like to think that if you were on that plane, you’d stand up and fight. They represented us that day, and this is what the kids need to know — what a hero really is.”
For 10 years, Frank Guerra has visited the Pennsylvania crash site outside Shanksville every year. Linda has attended with him for the past six years. They are there again today.
This year, both expect it to be quite a different experience, because the temporary memorial will be replaced by a permanent one. And instead of rubbing shoulders with the locals, who both say have embraced the families of those who lost loved ones on Flight 93, they will be surrounded by dignitaries and politicians of the highest order.
“It was very grassroots,” Frank Guerra says. “Nice to have that interaction between the visitors and the family members. I am going to miss that.”
He hesitates and adds, “I probably will change my mind when I get up there and see the trees they planted and the crescent wall with all the names, but I just think you won’t have that rub-the-shoulders feel.”
Says Linda: “The first time Frank took me up there, I had goosebump. It gives me chills now to talk about it. Now, there will be a lot more security, and it will be more formal. It’s different, but I suspect that had to happen to preserve the site.”
The Guerras have fond memories of those annual memorial events. One year, families were given a rose bush to remember their loved ones. The Guerras had room in the car for only one bush. Marked by a handpainted stone plaque with two butterflies and a rose on it, the bush is prominently displayed in the front yard, framed by numerous American flags.
Inside, there is a white three-ring binder filled with press clippings, programs from memorial services, and photos of Deora, a dark-haired girl with bright eyes that flash a steely determination that she undoubtedlyshared with her mother and grandfather.
The roses and mementos are a constant reminder of a young girl whose life will never be forgotten.
“When someone that young passes, you never have closure because you always have memories of it,” he says. “How do you close out anything that they didn’t get a chance to finish?”
Contact Tom Embrey at firstname.lastname@example.org
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