Wiltonian's advocacy for 9/11 flight attendants commended

Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) welcomed Wiltonian Sari Weatherwax to the state Capitol’s Senate Chamber in Hartford on Wednesday, April 22, to commend her advocacy for victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I didn’t know about it. I was just going to be part of the peanut gallery — I had no idea what Toni was up to,” said Weatherwax, who served as a United Airlines flight attendant for several decades.
“I couldn’t believe it, but it was amazing and it wasn’t anything about me — it was about them — all about my fallen flying partners.”
Weatherwax lost 16 friends and colleagues on 9/11 who were serving on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the second World Trade Center tower, and United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
Weatherwax said that day changed her life and led her to become an advocate and activist for her colleagues and a leading voice in raising public respect for flight personnel and passengers who died on Sept. 11.
“We, in the town of Wilton, are very proud of Sari,” Boucher told her fellow senators on April 22. “Everyone in the state of Connecticut should be proud of her, too.”

Advocacy


Weatherwax said her advocacy work started the day she and other flight attendants were turned away from Ground Zero three days after the attack.
“About 100 flight attendants got together in uniform and went there with our flowers to go into the pit and they wouldn’t allow us in, so we went back to Canal Street, said our prayers in the dust — everything was dust. We’re all crying, we’re singing — we’re trying to do anything to make [ourselves] feel better,” said Weatherwax. “Being turned away — that struck a nerve.”
In the days after the attacks, Weatherwax made more than 400 phone calls to elected leaders to raise their awareness of the flight attendants and pilots who lost their lives on Sept. 11.
“Those were 16 people I depended on every day on the airplane,” said Weatherwax.
“If we had been up there and faced with what they had been faced with — we all wonder why weren’t we there and why aren’t they at least respected for what they did?”
Weatherwax said despite being “the first to fight in the War on Terror,” the first to die and “quite literally the first responders,” the flight attendants who lost their lives on 9/11 are rarely spoken about.
Weatherwax noted that the heroic efforts of those on United Flight 93 who fought with the hijackers — including flight attendants Deborah Welsh, Ceecee Lyles, Lorraine Bay, Sandy Bradshaw, and Wanda Green — saved untold lives in the process.
“You don’t have to love flight attendants, but you’ve got to respect these flight attendants — they did exactly what they needed to do and they fought like hell,” said Weatherwax. “They were amazing people.”

Ground Zero


Weatherwax said she saw Connecticut Congressman Christopher Shays (R-4) at a firefighters memorial in Darien not long after and she walked up to him and told him about what had happened at Ground Zero.
“I walked up to him in my uniform with my flying partners from American and United, and I kind of stomped my foot and said, ‘We’re so mad and we’re so sad that we cannot get to them [in the pit],’” she said.
“I told him the whole deal, and he took my face in his hands and he said, ‘I will take you there.’ He didn’t even hesitate.”
Weatherwax’s efforts led the governors of Connecticut and New York, Congressman Shays and Rudy Giuliani, New York City’s mayor at the time, to organize a New York and Connecticut state police-escorted bus convoy to Ground Zero, where a ceremony was held to repose the remains of Weatherwax’s colleagues, as well as those of others who perished.

Troop transport


After the terrorist attacks, Weatherwax traveled with the U.S. Army as a volunteer flight attendant to transport soldiers to the conflict zone during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“They took us from New York to Washington, D.C., to Ramstein Air Force Base in West Germany to be trained … in staying alive in case a bomb went off on the airport tarmac,” she said.
“We had our own helmets, goggles, combat boots, a full fatigue, a big bag with our names all stenciled on them, and then at Ramstein, we picked up 400 [soldiers] at a time — young, gorgeous, smart kids.”
Weatherwax said the eight-day trip to transport the troops to the conflict zone was “life-changing.”
“We [the volunteer flight attendants] would go to the back and cry our eyes out, put our makeup back on and go back out,” she said. “I took pictures you would not believe — young girls in their fatigues cuddled up with their teddy bears.”
Weatherwax said reality set in as she waved the troops good-bye.
“Some of them wouldn’t come home, or they would come home like they have been coming home,” said Weatherwax. “I will never forget them, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see any of them again.”

Museum work


Weatherwax served as spokesperson for New York City’s 9/11 Tribute Center and is an artifacts specialist and docent at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center.
At first, Weatherwax said, her advocacy focused on the 9/11 flight attendants, but working at the tribute center and the museum has broadened her scope.
“There is hardly anything that you can ask me about these artifacts that I don’t know,” she said.
Before becoming an artifacts specialist at the museum, Weatherwax had to take six months’ worth of courses.
“We took courses in engineering, architecture, Middle Eastern studies, geology — it just went on and on and on,” said Weatherwax.
“Then we had 12 dissertations and this huge test that we all thought we were going to flunk. Half of us made it, half of us didn’t.”
Weatherwax passed the test and has been with the museum for about six months, which she said “is such an honor.”
All the subjects she learned over those six months of courses help Weatherwax interact with visitors to the museum.
For example, she said, “if engineers come, I can speak [about] engineering to them — that’s why they taught us all those things in the classes.”
Weatherwax said the museum covers the events and lives lost on 9/11 in subtle, yet powerful ways.
“There’s a huge blue wall with 2,738 squares for each victim — including those who died there when a nitrate urea bomb was set off [in 1993],” she said.
“Each square is hand-painted in watercolor and every one is a different color blue, because that was the color of the sky that day — severe clear — not a cloud in the sky.”
Behind that wall, said Weatherwax, are 14,000 human remains — “unknown to most people, unless they go over to this little plaque that explains it,” she said.
“That’s the way the museum does things — they do everything very subtle, and that’s why I respect this museum so much.”
Weatherwax said the remains are maintained by the New York medical examiner and DNA tests continue to be done.
“Two months ago and another month ago, they found matches for two families and they gave those fragments of their loved ones back to these families and they were able to bury them,” she said.
The museum’s Historical Exhibition is “dark,” “really sad” and “really hard to look at,” said Weatherwax.
“Outside the room, before you turn in, at our eye level but not kids’ eye level, there’s a sign for parents that admonishes you — maybe you don’t want to go in there,” she said.
“There’s a room of people jumping [from the building] and there’s another room with really intense pictures of going into the building.”
The 9/11 terrorists are “mentioned” in the museum, said Weatherwax, which was “a huge controversy,” but the museum “put them at a level where you look down on them.”
“That’s what I love — all the subtleties. You look down on them, and the pictures of them are small,” said Weatherwax. “Everything in the museum means something — everything.”
To learn more about the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, visit 911memorial.org.
To learn more about the 9/11 Tribute Center, visit tributewtc.org.