By Annette Hinkle
We will always recall exactly where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. That was the day the world bore witness to the terror attacks that took place in New York, Washington and in the nation’s skies.
Most of us learned of the attacks from news accounts or phone calls from acquaintances in the city. But for many in Sag Harbor, the gravity of the day’s events really hit home when Doris Gronlund arrived on Main Street to inform friends and neighbors that her daughter, Linda K. Gronlund, had been aboard United Flight 93, which was bound for San Francisco from Newark.
Linda, a lawyer, grew up in Sag Harbor, and on 9/11 was working for BMW. She was on a business trip, and planned to stay on in California with her boyfriend, Joe DeLuca, who was traveling with her, to celebrate her 47th birthday.
Her flight was one of four hijacked by terrorists that day. The other three, of course, found their mark at the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. But Flight 93, the last hijacked plane in the air, was brought down short of its mark — possibly the U.S. Capitol —in Shanksville, Pennsylvania by 40 passengers and crew who learned the fate of the other planes via cell phone calls to loved ones. The group ensured the plane would never reach its intended target by overwhelming the hijackers in the air and it ultimately crashed in a remote field.
That was 10 years ago, and while much has changed — both for the world and for Doris — it’s obvious that at times it still feels like yesterday — particularly when she recounts the details in the transcript of Linda’s final phone call made from the plane to her sister, Elsa, in which she outlines where her important documents are stored.
“They [the passengers and crew] were amazing and I’m grateful people are aware of how brave they were,” says Doris. “I was able to listen to the flight recorder … when you’re in the plane and here comes that cart rolling down the aisle. You think of that cart going 10 mph toward the cockpit door and ….”
Then she trails off, the tears coming again.
This week, Doris will travel with Elsa to Pennsylvania for memorial services, as she has done on previous 9/11 anniversaries. This year’s commemoration, has special meaning — not just because it’s been 10 years, but because the National Park Service will officially dedicate the first part of the permanent Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville. Doris will be there for ribbon cutting ceremonies on Friday and will stay on through Sunday for the 9/11 commemoration.
“They have this marvelous bell and they want a member of the family to come up and ring the bell and say the name of the person on the flight,” says Doris who notes that doing the honors in Linda’s memory will be her cousin, Tove Johnsen, who traveled from Oslo, Norway for the commemoration – a city that ironically was devastated by its own terrorist attack just two months ago.
“She and Linda were close,” notes Doris.
If there’s a positive side to any tragedy, Doris will find it. She refuses to devote energy to the negative aspects of 9/11 and in the years since the attack, she has fought her own battle with ovarian cancer. She credits the people of Sag Harbor for getting her through it by lending an ear or offering a hug when she needed it. And out of tragedy she has also forged strong new bonds, not only with her relatives in Norway, but with family members of other Flight 93 passengers.
Doris has also grown close to actress Lorna Dallas, who played Linda in “United 93,” the Paul Greengrass film that recounts the events aboard the plane. Dallas and her husband will be in Shanksville this weekend as well. (This Sunday at 8 p.m., Bay Street Theatre will offer a free screening of “Flight 93” the 2006 television film based on the event).
But when it comes to Linda’s legacy, nothing pleases Doris more than the scholarship BMW set up in her daughter’s memory which is awarded annually to a female engineering student at MIT.
“Now, I have met eight absolutely beautiful women,” smiles Doris. “Four are already out there cleaning the air, land, and water.”
When asked what it’s been like to mourn her daughter along with so many others who experienced loss that day, Doris says, “I think the whole 9/11 experience affected so many people. We happened to get to know a large portion of the people involved and that makes it more personal. So many of them are aching — I think of all the ones lost in the towers.”
“One thing Elsa said at the end of ‘United 93’ was, ‘We didn’t have to go around with a picture saying, ‘Did you see her?’” says Doris quietly. “We knew she was dead. That’s something. My heart aches so much for them.”
When asked if it ever gets easier, Doris becomes reflective.
“One morning I woke up really crying, I mean screaming her name,” she says. “It was so startling. I didn’t know what was going on. It was so unnerving. What was that for?”
“These days, the main crying spells are very few,” she adds. “I can tear up when I remember things. But the moments of real aching hurt are very few.”
“I’ve had such a magnificent life,” she smiles. “I’ve really, really lived. The valleys have only made the mountains more beautiful.”