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Remembering 9/11: Mark Bingham

Alice Hoagland, mother of Los Gatos 9/11 hero, urges good deeds, reconciliation on tragedy's 10th anniversary.

It's been 10 excruciatingly painful years for Los Gatos resident Alice Hoagland, whose only son Mark Bingham was killed Sept. 11, 2001 when his United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists.

Bingham was 31 when the plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA. Hoagland said Bingham called her at 6:44 a.m. using the plane's GTE airphone that fateful morning to tell her that he loved her. The call came to her brother Vaughn's home in Saratoga, where she was babysitting.

"He said, 'Mom, this is Mark Bingham. I just want to tell you that I love you. I'm on a flight from Newark to San Francisco and there are three guys on board who have taken over the plane and they say they have a bomb,' "

Hoagland also remembers her son asking her: "You believe me, don't you, mom?" 

Hoagland said Bingham didn't tell her during the approximately three-minute conversation that he had seen crew members and some of the 44 passengers killed aboard the plane before his eyes and that Al Qaeda had shoved the rest of the passengers to the back of the plane.

He also left out the most important part of what he was about to do, which was to storm into the plane's cockpit with the help of three other passengers to regain control of the aircraft.

Those who helped Bingham are Tom Burnett, Jeremy Glick,and likely others, according to Hoagland.

"They stood shoulder to shoulder, ran up the aisle and did their very best to get control of that doomed plane," she said. In hindsight, Hoagland said her son's loving words were typical of Bingham who, for most of his life, shielded his mother from pain and protected her. Although the evidence is inconclusive, it's believed that the terrorists wanted to crash the plane onto the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

"I'm so grateful I got to speak to him. Lyz Glick [Jeremy Glick's widow] has told me that the phone call was a gift and I agree."

When the call was dropped, Hoagland said her brother, his wife and she agonized about what to do. They decided to call the FBI.

A flight attendant for United Airlines, she said she called her crew desk to ask about Flight 93, but no information was available.

She remembers the house filling up that day with well-wishers, Bingham's University of California-BerkeleyChi Psi fraternity brothers and news media.

Even though he never received the calls with the messages, since his cell phone wasn't used to contact her, Hoagland said she called him twice to tell him, "Mark, this is your mom. The word is that it's terrorists and you've got to make a stand against those guys because they're hell-bent on using the plane as a weapon ... "

"He didn't need his mother to tell him what to do. He was already banding together with whoever would fight with him.

"Mark was a great kid. He was an athlete and a good friend. He was a gay man and was rugby player," Hoagland said.

On the afternoon of 9/11, when the San Francisco Chronicle called her to ask her if Bingham was gay, she answered in the affirmative.

"Ten years on, I'm so glad I did and I'm so glad that Mark had the confidence and love for me that he wanted me to know something very important about himself."

As a result of his bravery in outing his homosexuality, Hoagland said Bingham is regarded by the gay community and the country as a "gay hero," and she's become an unlikely spokeswoman for the gay community. 

Bingham attended junior high school and high school in Los Gatos while living in the little mountain cabin in the Redwood Estates community of Los Gatos. Hoagland still resides here with her elderly father. The cabin has been renovated, but the memories or Bingham are everywhere, she said.

In 1983 he enrolled at Fisher Junior High School and entered Los Gatos High School in the fall of 1984 and graduated in 1988. He also attended West Valley College in Saratoga.

He played rugby for Los Gatos High School under coach Dan Smith who saw potential in Bingham, Hoagland said.

And he won a string of rugby championships for the University of California-Berkeley.

He majored in international relations and opened The Bingham Group public relations firm in San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, he moved to New York with best friend Amanda Mark.

"It's been hard. I have to fight every day to stay cheerful in the face of the very depressing thought that I'm never going to see my son again and that I loved him. He was the light of my life. He was the most important thing in my life."

But she says she's determined to continue to "fight the good fight" promoting aviation security and raising awareness about the security lapses that she sees in the airline industry.

She also said she wants radical Islam to be reconciled with its moderate roots and for the West to be reconciled with Islam so "we can live in peace in the future and eradicate the root causes of terrorism."

After the tragedy, Hoagland said she became so disheartened and grief stricken that she opted for an early retirement from United Airlines.

These days, she's involved in several organizations that promote service and unity such as the nonprofit MyGoodDeed Inc., which worked to urge formal recognition of Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Hoagland is reminding people to take part in the MyGoodDeed's "I Will"" campaign, in which San Francisco and 24 other U.S. cities will host large-scale memorial volunteer events this weekend.

She also serves on HandsOn Bay Area organization, which creates opportunities for people to volunteer in their communities.

Today she'll be in Shanksville along with thousands for the dedication of phase one of a national memorial to the Flight 93 passengers.

Former president George W. Bush is scheduled to attend, along with Vice President Joe Biden and former president Bill Clinton.

Dawn Stranne September 11, 2011 at 05:23 AM
Go to www.911day.org to participate in the "I Will" campaign by My Good Deed and HandsOn Network. There are lots of volunteer opportunities through HandsOn Bay Area on 9/11. Do a good deed in honor of Mark, Alice and all those in the 911 community.

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