Tom Burnett

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Audie Murphy, the most decorated US soldier in World War II, always said he wasn’t a hero, and that the real heroes were the men who didn’t make it home.  Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs gives us an example supporting Murphy’s comment with Tom Burnett, a passenger on United Flight 93:


“We’re Going to Do Something.”

You’ve been very quiet about the Kaepernick PR disaster at Nike. Any thoughts? – Sam Wilder

Hi Sam. Nike’s free to celebrate whomever they wish, and Kaepernick is entitled to his opinion – kneeling, standing, or lying down. But if I was going to put someone’s face on a billboard – someone who epitomized bravery and sacrifice – I might have gone another way, especially this time of year. I might have gone with this guy – Tom Burnett.

Tom’s last act on earth was one of the most courageous things imaginable. And his last words to his wife, Deena, are among the most inspiring I’ve ever heard. Those exact words are at the top of this page, and the bottom. They were spoken seventeen years ago, under conditions I hope to never experience. I’ll never forget Tom’s last words. I hope you won’t either.

Transcript of Tom’s Last Calls to Deena

6:27 a.m.( pacific time) First cell phone call from Tom to Deena

Deena: Hello
Tom: Deena
Deena: Tom, are you O.K.?
Tom: No, I’m not. I’m on an airplane that has been hijacked.
Deena: Hijacked?
Tom: Yes, They just knifed a guy.
Deena: A passenger?
Tom: Yes.
Deena: Where are you? Are you in the air?
Tom: Yes, yes, just listen. Our airplane has been hijacked. It’s United Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco. We are in the air. The hijackers have already knifed a guy, one of them has a gun, they are telling us there is a bomb on board, please call the authorities. He hung up.

6:31 Deena calls 911
6:34 The phone rang in on call waiting, Tom’s second cell phone call.

Deena: Hello
Tom: They’re in the cockpit. The guy they knifed is dead.
Deena: He’s dead?
Tom: Yes. I tried to help him, but I couldn’t get a pulse.
Deena: Tom, they are hijacking planes all up and down the east coast. They are taking them and hitting designated targets. They’ve already hit both towers of the World Trade Center.
Tom: They’re talking about crashing this plane. (a pause) Oh my God. It’s a suicide mission…(he then tells people sitting around him)
Deena: Who are you talking to?
Tom: My seatmate. Do you know which airline is involved?
Deena: No, they don’t know if they’re commercial airlines or not. The newsreporters are speculating cargo planes, private planes and commercial. No one knows.
Tom: How many planes are there?
Deena: They’re not sure, at least three. Maybe more.
Tom: O.K….O.K….Do you know who is involved?
Deena: No.
Tom: We’re turning back toward New York. We’re going back to the World Trade Center. No, wait, we’re turning back the other way. We’re going south.
Deena: What do you see?
Tom: Just a minute, I’m looking. I don’t see anything, we’re over a rural area. It’s just fields. I’ve gotta go.

6:45 a.m. Third cell phone call from Tom to Deena

Tom: Deena
Deena: Tom, you’re O.K. (I thought at this point he had just survived the Pentagon plane crash).
Tom: No, I’m not.
Deena: They just hit the Pentagon.
Tom: (tells people sitting around him “They just hit the Pentagon.”)
Tom: O.K….O.K. What else can you tell me?
Deena: They think five airplanes have been hijacked. One is still on the ground. They believe all of them are commercial planes. I haven’t heard them say which airline, but all of them have originated on the east coast.
Tom: Do you know who is involved?
Deena: No
Tom: What is the probability of their having a bomb on board? I don’t think they have one. I think they’re just telling us that for crowd control.
Deena: A plane can survive a bomb if it’s in the right place.
Tom: Did you call the authorities?
Deena: Yes, they didn’t know anything about your plane.
Tom: They’re talking about crashing this plane into the ground. We have to do something. I’m putting a plan together.
Deena: Who’s helping you?
Tom: Different people. Several people. There’s a group of us. Don’t worry. I’ll call you back.

6:54 a.m. Fourth cell phone call to Tom to Deena

Deena: Tom?
Tom: Hi. Anything new?
Deena: No
Tom: Where are the kids?
Deena: They’re fine. They’re sitting at the table having breakfast. They’re asking to talk to you.
Tom: Tell them I’ll talk to them later.
Deena: I called your parents. They know your plane has been hijacked.
Tom: Oh…you shouldn’t have worried them. How are they doing?
Deena: They’re O.K.. Mary and Martha are with them.
Tom: Good.

(a long quiet pause)

Tom: We’re waiting until we’re over a rural area. We’re going to take back the airplane.
Deena: No! Sit down, be still, be quiet, and don’t draw attention to yourself! (The exact words taught to me by Delta Airlines Flight Attendant Training).
Tom: Deena! If they’re going to crash this plane into the ground, we’re going to have do something!
Deena: What about the authorities?
Tom: We can’t wait for the authorities. I don’t know what they could do anyway.
It’s up to us. I think we can do it.
Deena: What do you want me to do?
Tom: Pray, Deena, just pray.

(after a long pause)

Deena: I love you.
Tom: Don’t worry, we’re going to do something…

Go here to comment.  Burnett was a devout Catholic. He began attending daily mass in 1998. When his wife asked him why he was doing this he told her: ‘I feel like God is calling me to do something, and I don’t know what it is. But I know it’s going to have a great impact on a lot of people.  The reason I’ve been going to daily Mass is because I feel like if I can be closer to God, then I’ll know what his plan is for me.’”

No one is born brave, but all of us can choose to be brave at a crisis and, by the grace of God, when the chips are down, we can do something and make it count.

More to explorer

Even Satan Hates the Press

An Easter Egg from those brilliantly twisted folks at The Lutheran Satire.  Added bonus:  

Saint of the Day Quote: Saint Anselm

Come now, insignificant man, fly for a moment from your affairs, escape for a little while from the tumult of your thoughts.


  1. I was at the premiere for United 93 at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was gripping. In the Ziegfeld Theater, there was complete silence at the plane crashed. The film had no sound. Then they went to the credits, again with no sound. The theater was suddenly filled with people sobbing. It seemed there were 40 – 50. I have been to a lot of movie premieres and never experienced anything like that. I have seen the movie 3 more times. It always makes me tear up. His family can be so proud. I am sorry for their loss.

  2. This is the sort of article that the media should spread. Unfortunately, they don’t. I am reminded of the act of Faith which says God “can neither deceive nor be deceived.” Unfortunately, the media today deceive and are deceived (by Satan) and go on ignoring and suppressing the truth in favor of a falsification of reality.

  3. the d’evil exists,,,,,WE GOT OBAMA,,,,,only 7 years later,,,,,,mccain tanked his campaign with palin among his ploys,,,,,the 08 money meltdown was underway and mccain had the family fortune to tend to,,,,,obama had no fortune to worry about….i think that goes along way to answer the ultimate question,,,,how did we get obama after 9-11,,,,,,credit hillary as well if not totally.

  4. A nice article, but I don’t see much reason to discuss Kapernick. Tom is real hero. Many people do feel Kapernick has lost his career due his protests of police treatment of blacks. Catholics are big tent people, there should be room for both opinions.

  5. This puts a face and a name on one of the passengers, and a window into his soul. He was a martyr for our country and I pray he is enjoying the glories of heaven God indeed had a plan for his short life.

  6. What an amazing story about Tom Burnett. SO powerful and inspiring. However I must add that it takes away from this amazing story about Mr. Burnett story to criticize Colin Kapernick in the article. Tom’s story stands on it’s own and needs no comparison. What Colin Kapernick has done also takes real courage. As Catholics, let’s be those who build bridges, not those who tear down. There is so much divisiveness in our world. Let’s help build peace and unity. Thanks to the author for reminding us all of the importance of daily Mass

  7. Christian charity demands that you not tear down Colin Kaepernick. He has a First Amendment right to protest as he sees fit. It’s in the tradition of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.

  8. I don’t know much about American handegg, but I know that when people idolise sports starts, they become their idols. Kaepernick is entitled to his opinion, but why the national handegg league doesn’t take some sort of disciplinary action is beyond me. Burnett knew he was going to die, but still did something. (John 15:13). Kaepernick reminds me of the scribes and pharisees drawing attention to themselves.

  9. Christian charity demands that you not tear down Colin Kaepernick.

    ….While I respect the first amendment, you’re seriously screwed up in conflating the bill of rights with a holy negation of ability to respond.

    The bill of rights recognizes rights given by God, not an ability to exercise the same without response.

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