2017-07-12
Douglas A. MacMillan was one of the many people whose lives were profoundly changed by the events of 9/11. His close friend Todd Beamer was killed trying to wrest control of United Flight 93 from hijackers. Within days, the story of Todd's bravery, his last known words, "Let's Roll," and his widow's plight had prompted hundreds of donations to the family. A few weeks later, MacMillan gave up his job to become executive director of the Todd M. Beamer Memorial Foundation, dedicated helping to raise funds for children affected by 9/11.

How did you get to know Todd?
We first met playing softball together for our church team, then we found out Todd and Lisa lived just a couple houses down from us. Todd and I were also part of a men's Friday morning breakfast group. A bunch of us got together at 6:30 every week. It was an accountability group based on being vulnerable and then holding each other accountable.

How did you come to work with the Beamer Foundation?
Todd was my best friend, and my wife and Lisa are best friends. Right after Todd's story came out, Lisa started receiving donations from people around the world. She told me, "I don't want to profit from this. What can we do?" I said let's start a foundation

In the five years before Sept. 11, 2001, the phrase "Let's Roll" appears on the Nexis media search engine 1,185 times. In the year following, it appeared 2,525 times.

as a way of continuing Todd's legacy. She agreed, but said, "I want you to run it." It started growing so rapidly that I ended up resigning my job in medical sales to run it full time in October of 2001.

What's the purpose of the foundation?
Our mission is to equip children facing family trauma to make heroic choices every day. We're offering a three-day, high-impact experiential learning retreat to children who either lost a parent in 9/11 or were affected firsthand by the events. It's going to be done in conjunction with mentoring and curriculum to help their growth and development.

How many children do you hope to help?
There were over 400,000 in Manhattan who saw the Twin Towers come down. So although they didn't lose a parent, they are still severely traumatized by it. Our range will be a 90-mile radius from New York City. That's our target short-term. In the longterm it's children in general who are experiencing trauma.

How much money has been collected so far?
We've raised more than $3 million dollars.

Will it be a Christian program?
The underlying theme of all we do is to respond out of love because that's what Christ asked us to do. And there will be an optional faith-based segment at the retreat center. But the program itself is broad-based. It's going to help children across the borders of race and religion and ethnicity. It's based on proven principles of how we can help the children. We have a consultant in the process now to help us refine our mission statement and our business plan and putting together the program.

Are you building a retreat center?
We're looking in a 90-mile radius of the city for a facility that's pre-existing, so we're not wasting money or time. We want to get an effective program in front of these children as soon as possible.

Will money be given to the families, or will you only provide services
The program will be free, but we're not awarding grants.

Is there a pastoral advisor?
On our board is a youth pastor Keith Fran, a youth pastor in Lancaster, Pa., who went to college with Todd. We're in the process of expanding our board to bring on more world-known experts in terms of child psychology and pastorship, with more clout and more experience that can give us better expertise and so donors can see we have the best people in place to help us.

Mrs. Beamer has been speaking to Christian groups, as she tells about in her book. Are most of your contributions from Christians?
In fact, most of Lisa's appearances have been for secular audiences. Lisa's opinion is that she'll always be able to talk to the Christians. She doesn't want to preach to the choir. She feels this is an opportunity for her to speak to those who want to know how she can do this.

Our donations have come from 30 different countries, from all over the United States. It's run the gamut. So far all of it has been unsolicited. Communities get together to raise funds and send it to us. And the donations are unspent. Our overhead to date has been covered by gifts from our board of directors. We're trying to be great stewards with the money we've got. It's sitting in an account and not a bit of it has been wasted.

The foundation has tried to have some control over the use of Todd's last known words, "Let's roll."
We'd heard that two people had already applied for a trademark, just to capitalize on the use of it. Our attorney told us we needed to throw our hat in the ring. This is attributed to Todd--no one's tried to trademark it or use it as a commercial venture before 9/11. There's an organization in Maine using "Let's Roll" to raise money for political campaigns. Car dealers out West are using it as an advertising slogan. That's what we have an issue with, people trying to capitalize on the good will of Todd's name and his actions. The public has said they want "Let's Roll" hats and t-shirts. We feel if someone's going to profit from it, it should be the children who lost so much on Sept. 11.

How do you feel about George Bush using it in a speech?
We've said from day one that if it's used for inspirational or motivational purposes, not economic purposes, we'll support it. I think Todd would be very proud. I don't have an issue with that. It's when they decide to put it on mudflaps on trucks that we have a problem.

Were you involved in the Air Force putting it on their planes?
Yes, they contacted us and asked for our approval and sent it to us to sign off on the logo. If you see on their logo, you'll see that it says "Used with permission of the Todd Beamer Foundation." We have the right to use it as well, if we care to.

Todd has become a hero to the nation at large, but also a Christian hero. There's an album out now of Christian songs called "Let's Roll." Does Let's Roll represent a Christian ideal?
In the talks I give, I talk about Todd's character. I never mention "Let's Roll." Just look at the story of what he did on Flight 93 from a Christian perspective. When he was asked what the terrorists' nationality was, he said "Unknown." He wasn't the type to badmouth anybody. He could have fallen to the stereotypical response. And then to ask the operator to pray with him and to say, "I'm going to step out on faith," and ask Jesus to help him. That's what I think the Christian community does and should grasp onto.

"Let's roll" for Todd was not a rallying cry for a nation. It was a saying he used to get his boys to jump into the minivan, or out of the house to get to church on Sunday.

And yet among Christians, there's this idea that Todd and the rest of the passengers sacrificed themselves in a Christ-like way.
Well, knowing Todd as well as I do, he would never have said, "Hey, we're not going to make it, let's give our lives and lay it down like Christ laid his life down." I guarantee you everyone on that plane wanted to get off that plane. Todd would not have wanted to leave his family behind--would not have wanted his wife to go through labor and delivery by herself. But he would do what was right. He wasn't afraid to die, and he knew there was a reason he was here, and if he did die, he knew the outcome. But he would do everything in his power not to let that happen.

What's the message for the rest of us in what Todd did?
It's mind-boggling what they did. I've had people come up to me and say I would have done the same thing. I say, "Would you? You have had opportunities to make a stance before and you haven't done it." The more you talk to them, the more they say, You know, I probably wouldn't. The mindset of most people in these situations is, "Don't stand out. Don't stand up for who you are, don't try to take things into your own hands." That's what a majority of us would probably do. It's a very rare person that would stand up to and defend their beliefs like that.

Many Christians in my area are pro-life. But when it comes time to vote for our politicians, only about 10 percent of them show up to vote. It's amazing to me that people don't stand up when they could do it very easily. I just find it hard to believe those same people would do the same thing on that plane that Todd did. If they can't stand up for the little things, it's very difficult to stand up for the bigger things.


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