BY DONNA MILLER, Colorado Chapter
January/February 2002 99 NEWS
I love The 99s. Every time I turn around, there is a 99 who reminds me how rich my life is because of them. Fellow 99 and American Airlines pilot Jenny Beatty has been keeping an informal network of furloughed pilots going, which has kept our morale up while keeping us informed since the September 11 tragedy.
Donna Miller and Tina Jenkin
In early November, I headed from my home in Golden, Colorado, to Albuquerque to participate in a "Flag Run Across America" that volunteers had organized. The plan was to run a flag from Boston to Los Angeles to symbolically complete the United and American Airlines flights that did not complete their flights on September 11. Having been furloughed after just three flights from my dream job flying the 737 at American Airlines, I thought this would be a worthwhile thing to do.
I e-mailed South Central Section Governor Anna Taylor in Albuquerque to see if she wanted to get together for lunch or dinner while I was in the neighborhood for the long weekend. I had only seen her once since she moved from Colorado to Albuquerque three years ago. She replied immediately that she was helping Tina Jenkin, a brand new 99 and former FWP, make a T-shirt with The 99s logo to wear in the same run. She invited me for dinner at the same time so I could meet her.
It was great to see Anna again. I realized how much I had missed her sense of humor. After a wonderful dinner, Anna completed a very cool shirt for Tina to wear in the run, and I had a running buddy.
I brought along a tent and sleeping bag but Anna wouldn't hear of it. She showed me the guest bedroom and bath, and made signs on her computer to put on my car to indicate I was a runner. I was in heaven!
Running with the American flag was a wonderful healing experience. I ran in uniform in honor of my fellow pilots who were killed. Tina ran with the New Mexico state flag that was traveling with the American flag from border to border. From Albuquerque, we drove to the Very Large Array. (Remember Jody Foster in "Contact"?!)
Arriving at the VLA at sunset was an amazing sight. The line of satellite dishes stretched across the desert like a string of enormous pearls. By 10 o'clock, several of the runners had wandered in, but there weren't enough runners, so we decided to each run extra legs. A few hours later I was off and running with run organizer, Mike Burr, and a couple of others on the midnight-to-1-o'clock shift. The command vehicle trailed us at a watchful distance, piping "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" from the truck's megaphone. Shortly after 1 o'clock, we turned the flag over to the next crew. Since our group couldn't decide whether it was the end of along night or beginning of another long day, we ended up with both beer and doughnuts.
I slept for a couple of hours, waking at about 4 in the morning. Although I wasn't scheduled to run again until 6:30, I wanted to make sure there were enough runners. So I shook the cobwebs from my head and set out for the starting point at the visitor's center. The parking lot was black and empty, but on the road two lone runners were carrying the American flag and the New Mexico state flag up and down the road; their whispered words were barely audible over the desert's night sounds.
We couldn't cross the Continental Divide at night, so runners volunteered to keep the flag moving at the VLA until morning when fresh runners would arrive. Suddenly, my mood changed from a fun?loving, "isn't-this-a-goofy-thing-to-do-in-the-middle-of-the-night" to a deep respect for all the runners who kept the flag moving. What would happen if they parked the flag and started fresh from the VLA the next morning? Nothing. But that wasn't the point. Our mission was to run the flag continuously from Boston to LA, symbolically completing the flights of the American and United Airlines flights that did not make it on September 11. So these runners, barely shadows under the watchful eye of the distant satellite dishes, kept the promise, and the flags, along with the spirits of those we lost that day, continued on.
The following morning Tina and I ran a few legs to the next town of Datil where we brought the flag to an elementary school. Watching the kids with the flag made me realize I couldn't teach them anything about patriotism. In fact, I would learn a lot from these small-town children. From there, Tina returned to Albuquerque. Her gallant effort to run while recovering from walking pneumonia was honorable. I continued through Quemado and Pie Town and eventually to the Arizona border. It was bittersweet turning over the flag to the next group of runners. Before dawn we stood in the dark and said the Pledge of Allegiance and watched the flag that had been in our care disappear into the darkness.
I drove back to my home in Golden, with a renewed sense of patriotism. After a couple of days of restlessness, and encouragement from Linda Grimes, a runner I had met in Albuquerque, I was on my way to Los Angeles to see the flag to "shining sea."
Bobbi Trout & Donna Miller
Linda and I ran several legs on the last day of the run. It was a joy to hold the flag again, although it was a different atmosphere in a big city. We ran the last several miles through LAX to the beach. On the last mile we were joined by the families of the crews that were killed, along with walkers holding flags from all 50 states. A lone bagpiper cloaked in black played as the group walked along the beach to the ceremony -- ending the month-long journey of the American flag. I felt sad; I felt proud. I felt tired -- but rejuvenated. This was an experience I will never forget.
My trip ended with a joyous day spent with Charter Member Bobbi Trout. The day following the conclusion of the flag run, I drove down to San Diego and had lunch with Bobbi and fellow 99 Cheryl Baker. We laughed and joked and told stories. (Bobbi always has the best stories!) I hated to leave, but had to fly back to Denver the following day.
On the ride back I began to process the previous events -- a difficult emotional experience that was softened by the camaraderie of 99s. I am forever grateful and proud to be a member of such a close sisterhood of amazing women.
On the last mile we were joined by the families of the crews that were killed, along with walkers holding flags from all 50 states.