Mall of America
Professional Flight Attendants Association (PFAA) Memorial
August 16, 2004
Stanley, North Dakota
Thank you for that nice introduction.
I am Gary Nelson from Stanley, North Dakota, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today. Thank you PFAA for initiating this occasion to memorialize the pilots and flights attendants who perished on September 11, 2001. It was an horrific event that witnessed the hijacking of four U.S. commercial airliners. This is a welcome and deserving recognition of airline personnel who perished that day.
I was asked to be here because my daughter, Ann Nicole Nelson, perished that day as well. She was a bonds trader and was working that morning at Cantor Fitzgerald. She was at her desk on the 104th floor of the North Tower when the first plane struck five floors below her office.
Ann graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, worked at Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis, and Chicago and had been working at Cantor less than a year. Ann enjoyed her years spent in Minneapolis.
When I arrived in Minneapolis last Friday and was thinking about my speech, I wasn’t quite sure what I would say. The next morning I looked out of the window of my room on the thirteenth floor of the hotel and saw a field of white stones, lined up in what appeared to be an intentional vertical and horizontal pattern. The stones sat on a beautifully manicured lawn surrounded by a carefully pruned forest with each tree planted as though there had been a plan and a purpose. It was then that it occurred to me that this was Fort Snelling, a national military cemetery. It is hallowed ground, a final resting place dedicated to those who gave their lives so that our nation might live in peace.
So it is indeed appropriate that we are here today so near Fort Snelling to remember those who are still giving their lives so that we as a nation may continue to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Thank you to the military personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and throughout the rest of the world.
Thank you to the police and firemen, who without concern for themselves, rushed into those burning towers when others were running from them in terror. Ann grew up knowing that fighting fires and saving lives were important. You see, I was a volunteer fireman during her growing up years and she knew that when the fire call came, all other activities stopped in order to help others who were in need.
These thoughts came to my mind on the morning of 9/11 when I turned on the tv news and saw the smoke and flames billowing out of the north tower where Ann worked. I do not know what state she was in as I watched the news, because we never heard from her. I do know that if she was conscious of being in a fire, she would have known that the firemen and women would be looking to save her, or sacrifice their lives trying.
A very special thank you to the pilots and flight attendants who bravely resisted the efforts of the terrorists to save their passengers and their planes. They paid the ultimate price - they sacrificed their lives. We are especially grateful to those who are responsible for the 9/11 Flight Crew Memorial Foundation, with particular appreciation to the flight crews on American Flight 11 that crashed in the World Trade Center’s North Tower; United Flight 175 that crashed into the World Trade Center’s South Tower; American Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon, and United Flight 93 that crashed into the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
I thank God for giving me Ann for 30 years, as short as they were. I loved her so. We were more than a dad and a daughter. We were best friends. Ann was wise beyond her years, wise enough to learn from the past, appreciate the present, and plan for the future. Her mother and I learned when she was very young that she knew what she wanted and as willing to make honorable sacrifices to achieve her goals.
It is said that children learn the lessons of life from their parents, however I’m not sure that this was the way it happened with Ann. She believed in and promoted tolerance, forgiveness, love, and optimism. I know this because she reminded me of those virtues whenever I exhibited behaviors to the contrary! And I suspect she is not finished with me yet.
Thank you, Ann.
In closing, I want to offer a very special thank you to the pilots and crews who perished on 9/11. Thank you to everyone here today supporting the efforts of the 9/11 Flight Crew Memorial Foundation.