“Thanks for asking me to speak to you tonight. First let me assure you that my words will be short but they come from the heart.
It has been one incredible year for my family and our country. I agreed to speak to you tonight because we must not forget what happened on Sept 11, 2001. One year ago. If we forget, it will happen again.
What should I say tonight? Where do I begin? It’s easy for me to speak about my brother. Actually the difficult part is what not to say. Let me start with a dream I had about 6 months ago. We all go through different stages of grief. About six months ago, I had this dream, that my brother John was not killed on 9-11, but rather he was taken hostage on his way to the airport and was being held somewhere in a hotel….
As silly as dreams can be, in that dream, I wrote him a letter.
When I woke up in the morning…I thought about that dream, and realized it was only a dream. How I wished it were true.
I then realized it had to be a dream… Think about it…
brothers don’t write letters to each other! So, being the year 2002, I
thought instead of a letter, that I could to write an email to him, which
I completed this week, an email that would recount the past year as it
impacted John, my family, our country, and me. I would like to share that
email with you tonight.
Subject: Sept 11, 2001 to Sept 11, 2002 a Year in Review
Hey Brother John,
I haven’t seen you in one year, and what a year it has been.
Your last day with us last year started like so many before. You woke at 5am to be in Boston for an 8 o’clock flight. You quickly showered and dressed, looked in your 3 sleeping daughters, kissed your wife, and headed out the door. As you drove out your driveway and down by uncle Al’s house, you gave him your customary 2 short toots of your horn, that was the last communication anyone in the family would have with you.
I awoke soon thereafter to begin my day. You see, I was also heading to Logan airport for a business trip to St. Louis, Mo.
My ride was supposed to pick me up at 9am. As I awaited my ride to the airport, I turned on the TV to catch the latest news… It was around 8:50 when a news bulletin flashed that an airplane had hit the WTC. My first reaction was to call your wife, since she grew up not far from there in NYC. Your in-laws Bill and Betty, who were at your house, ready to drive back to NYC, were in their car ready to leave.
Peggy called them back into the house… My ride picked me up and I was on my way to Logan. We made a quick stop at a hotel to pick up more passengers. I ran in to see what was going on in NYC. As I walked into the lobby a second aircraft hit the WTC and the news reported that the first aircraft was a 767 from Boston to LAX. My knees went weak. I called Peg to see what you were doing, hoping that she would say you were out in the fields of your beautiful farm. She answered the phone in tears…
When I said… “Peg, it’s me, Jim!” her response was, “Jim, Jim, -it’s John!” They are words that continue to echo in my ears today. Being an AA flight attendant, she had checked the computer…your flight was already blacked out. Thus began the longest, saddest, day of our lives. It has been an incredible year. So much happened so quickly that day. I called your daughter’s school to take them out of class. I didn’t want them to hear your name on TV. I drove the 2 miles from my house to yours…
The police were already there. So were your parish priest, your friends, and neighbors. I then drove to get the girls at school. I cannot begin to tell you what a long that ride was… “What to say to them? How would I say it?”
Hundreds of people came to the house. Hundreds if not thousands of media requests came in from around the world. By 3pm the 7-acre field next to your house was filled with reporters, satellite-trucks, police cars, and friends. At 3:30 I met with the media….
Your kid brother! I spoke with pride and love about you, and the strength of our family. I spoke of your love of the land. I spoke about your 150-acre farm, which you preserved as open space forever. That evening the Cardinal came to your beautiful house to offer us comfort. On Sept 17, we held a memorial service for you. The Dracut police estimate there were over 4000 people there.
It was a gorgeous New England fall day. A sad, picturesque ending to a remarkable life. Senators, Congressman, friends, and neighbors joined with all of your family. A large military contingent, people from the Agriculture community, Veterans groups… Need I go on? John, your memorial service was broadcast live on all of the Boston TV stations and some worldwide stations. Peggy asked me to say a few words at your service. I was honored. I spoke of your 4 loves, which I feel made you the man you were:
- I spoke of your love of country
- Love of flying
- Love of farming
- And most importantly your love of family
Since that time there isn’t a day that goes by without us thinking of you and how you impacted our lives. One year later…let me give you an update to those loves:
First, your family: Mom and dad are well. We celebrated dad’s 82nd birthday in March. Mentally he is as strong as ever. Physically he out-works everyone on the farm. Mom is well. She’s quiet. I cannot imagine what a mother feels inside for losing a child, even when that child is 50 years old. They are the foundation to our family’s strength. Your wife Peggy is a pillar of strength and courage to our family. She is doing a wonderful job with 3 gorgeous girls. Like all teenagers, they are very active. Laura got her driver’s license this year.
You remember just 5 days before you were taken from us, we celebrated a sweet-16th birthday party for her. And, oh yes, she’s gone on some dates too! Before one of her first dates she asked me to tell her about boys and dating. All I will tell you is… You owe me big-time for that!
Caroline did wonderful in her first year of high school sports. She has millions of friends and good grades. As little as you liked sports, your 2 oldest girls were on the state championship tennis team. Little Mary… What a wonderful girl…so quiet, and such a pleasure.
I’m not sure there is any one day that has been more difficult than any others. Thanksgiving, Christmas, your birthday, or maybe last Tuesday. Why last Tuesday? As the kids say, “….just ‘cuz!” We never know when our tears will flow.
Your farm…is as beautiful as ever. The cold winds of last winter turned to the summer warmth. The spring returned life to your “fields of dreams”. We feel your presence each and every day there. This year produced a plentiful blueberry crop, but without you there, they didn’t seem to taste quite as sweet. The peaches, although abundant, were somehow not quite as tasty as before.
You saved your farm as open-space forever. Forever is a long time. All future generations will be able to enjoy it. And the Dracut land trust that you started continues this spring. Senator Kennedy and Congressman Meehan secured funds to save another 33 acres of land in Dracut in your name, land that you were trying to preserve. YOUR legacy continues!
In the past year, one of the libraries in town was named after you, and the President signed a law, designating a US Department of Agriculture bill as the JOHN OGONOWSKI BILL! Can you imagine that? The list goes on and on…
I think you may see some humor in this… Your boyhood dream, flying with the airlines! So how are things with the airlines???
I don’t have time to say much about that. I’ve spoken to some of your airline friends. It would take hours for me to tell you what’s going on there. I have an idea; tomorrow morning I’ll be flying back to Boston, why don’t you come stand in the security line with me? I’m sure I will have plenty of time to fill you in…
Lastly, about our great country for which you served in the military and loved so much: John, as I reflect back on the day that our hearts cried out, 9-11, something else happened in the country.
I noted the irony that the airlines hijacked were from airlines named United and American. United Americans, …standing tall! A new-found patriotism appeared all across our great land. It was a patriotism not displayed since WWII. Our flag flies proudly from sea to shining sea. A flag which flew over the capital, was presented to mom and dad. A second one was given to Peg and the girls. Our country remains strong. I can proudly say that we remain as: ONE NATION UNDER GOD, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Your friends at American [APA] asked me to speak tonight as they honor all those lost on Sept 11, and since. As they honor those who performed heroically this year, I am always honored to tell people about my big brother, what he accomplished in his 50 short years, and how he died.
Although many of us would like to have a break from the reporters, the cameras, and the nightly news, we must not forget what happened to you and over 3000 others - or it will happen again…
So I will close this email, by saying please give a hug to Betty, Tom, Kathleen, Barbara, Amy, and all the others taken from us. Your work is done, ours will continue through our love of God, family and country…
God bless you brother John,
And God bless America!