Remembering Two Heroes Of September 11, 2001: Father Mychal Judge & Betty Ann Ong
Some 3,017 people died in New York, at the Pentagon and in a farm field in western Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and save for the hijackers all were heroes in their own way. But Father Mychal Judge and Betty Ann Ong merit special mention.
New York Fire Department Chaplain Mychal Judge, or Father Mike, as everyone called the beloved Benedictine, was uptown at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, where he ministered to the wealthy and homeless alike, when the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on that gloriously beautiful morning. He donned his FDNY chaplain’s uniform and rushed to the towers, where he briefly paused to pray with Mayor Giuliani before running over to a firefighter and a woman who had fallen on the firefighter after jumping from the North Tower.
Father Mike had removed his fireman’s helmet to administer the last rites and was anointing Firefighter Danny Suhr and the woman with holy water when he was struck in the back of the head and mortally wounded by a chunk of falling debris.
You may not realize that you knew who Father Mike was until you reflect on the image above. Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton’s photograph, one of the most gripping images to come out of that horrific day, is a modern day Pietá. Yes, that’s Father Mike on the makeshift gurney.
You also probably didn’t know that Father Mike was an acknowledged homosexual. And so beloved that his death certificate bears the number 00001 – the first official World Trade Center casualty.
The collision between religious orthodoxy and social reality can be ugly, but the mess the Roman Catholic Church has made of its two biggest 21st century controversies — pedophile priests and homosexual priests — is enough to make Job spin in his grave.
You see, as inspiring as Father Mike’s life may have been, not to mention his bravery on 9/11, he would not have been welcome in today’s church, which according to its policy believes that gays “have no social value” and, moreover, “no moral virtue.”
That truly is a sin.
Ong, who was born to Chinese-American parents in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1956, began her career as an American Airlines flight attendant in 1987. Her professionalism and hard work later earned her the position of a purser, or head flight attendant.
Ong had a knack for making people feel comfortable and putting them at ease. Her love for children and senior citizens made her an ideal purser, and she often gave away trinkets from her travels to children in her Boston neighborhood.
On 9/11, Ong assigned herself to AA Flight 11 at Boston’s Logan International Airport so she could return to Los Angeles and then go on vacation to Hawaii with her sister. During the hijacking, Ong called in to the American Airlines emergency center and alerted a supervisor that the aircraft had been hijacked.
The call was the first indication that something was seriously amiss on that September morning, and eventually led to the shutdown of all flights nationwide and diversion of incoming flights from Europe to Canada.
Along with fellow flight attendant Madeline Amy Sweeney, she relayed seat numbers of the hijackers. She reported that none of the crew could open the cockpit door, that two flight attendants and a passenger had been injured, and one of the hijackers had sprayed mace in the first class cabin.
The call lasted 23 minutes. It was terminated when the Boeing 767 crashed into the North Tower.
May Father Mike and Betty Ann Ong rest in peace.