Special Tribute Honors Unsung Women Heroes
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., June 18, 2003 A tribute called "Women Are Heroes, Too" was recently held here at the Women's Memorial to highlight "the unsung heroes of rescue and recover efforts" who happen to be women, according to Susan Brewer.
Brewer, founder of America's Heroes of Freedom, pointed out that most first- response agencies are male-dominated. Still, she noted, women who serve in the military, law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services, and as volunteers with other front-line agencies are important contributors to rescue and recovery efforts after a public tragedy.
"We feel it's important to honor the courage and sacrifices made by women towards the preservation of life and freedom," Brewer said, "and that our doing so is not an afterthought, but a priority and imperative."
Among the 18 honorees at the recent event were women involved in these memorable tragedies involving Americans:
o Rescue efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in Virginia and New York and over Pennsylvania;
o Treatment of injured sailors after the Oct. 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen;
o Assistance in the capture of the October 2002 snipers operating in, and spanning out from, the Washington metropolitan area; and
o Victims who died in the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombings.
The tribute was held at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial located at the gates of Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery.
The honored heroes included Lisa Jefferson, the telephone supervisor who last spoke to Todd Beamer before his hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pa. Also present was Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tayinikia D. Campbell, who treated sailors aboard the badly damaged USS Cole after it was bombed.
Also invited were former women prisoners of war in Iraq Army Spcs. Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson. Neither was able to attend. Lynch continues recovery from wounds at Washington's Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and Johnson had a prior engagement.
Both soldiers were captured March 23 when their unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, was ambushed in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
Johnson sent a letter that said the "tribute to women who responded" was "truly inspiring." She said the tribute should recognize the important contributions that women in the military, fire and rescue, medical services and other agencies make to national defense and responses to tragic events.
Brewer said Johnson was rescued on Palm Sunday, April 13, 21 days after her capture, along with six other POWs.
Lynch's rescue took place April 1.
In an interview before the ceremony, Campbell, a medical corpsman, talked about why the America's Heroes of Freedom was honoring her. She said when the terrorists attacked the guided missile destroyer Cole, she was preparing to go to lunch.
Everyone was in a festive mood, Campbell noted, because the executive officer had just announced that after refueling, the ship would sail for Bahrain about 1 p.m.
Three minutes later there was a loud boom and the ship started shaking.
Campbell was standing in the doorway and was thrown backwards. The ship got dark and Campbell asked her co-worker, "What was that?" He said, "I don't know."
"We started running for our general-quarters station because there wasn't any way to sound the alarms because the power was out," Campbell said. "That's when they started bringing the casualties out."
Her first patient was a screaming woman sailor with facial cuts who didn't know what had happened, Campbell said.
Screams for help were coming from all directions; the uninjured were bringing the injured out for treatment.
"We started working on them," said Campbell, who noted that the Cole didn't have a doctor aboard and that it was only she and a chief petty officer. "But we were blessed to have our command master chief, who was a former corpsman. The ship isn't big enough to have a doctor."
She said it took 90 minutes for the three corpsmen to treat 39 injured sailors and get them off the ship to a hospital. Seventeen sailors died in the incident.
Campbell said she and the other medical staff treated the most serious injuries as well as possible. "Surprisingly, when the ship was hit, there was an ambulance waiting on the pier," she noted.
"Our captain called the U.S. Embassy and they sent some doctors and medics from Bahrain to help," she said. "And there was a French ship in the area and they sent their doctors. So our injured made it to the hospital.."
Campbell said she was assigned to the hospital ship USNS Comfort during the war in Iraq.
Lisa Jefferson said the operator who answered the call from Flight 93 became so upset that she as supervisor ,had to take over.
"I was the person Todd Beamer ended up speaking with in his final call," said Jefferson. "The representative who answered the call appeared to be traumatized, so I moved her to another location, put the headset on and did what I had to do."
Beamer told Jefferson that three people were hijacking his plane. She said she calmly asked him for information to pass on to the FBI and other authorities - the name of the airline, flight number, their aircraft's location and destination. They were coming from New Jersey going to San Francisco.
"I could hear people in the background screaming for their lives," Jefferson said. ""It was a terrifying event. I can hear their screams today."
Asked how she managed to maintain her cool to handle the situation, Jefferson said, "When his call came in, I didn't know exactly what was going on. I'd just heard rumors that two planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.
"He (Beamer) asked me if I knew what they wanted, was there a money involved -- a ransom," said Jefferson. "I told him I didn't know."
She heard people in the background saying it was a suicide attempt and they were taking the plane down on purpose. Beamer told her he and some other passengers were going to jump the guy who said he had a bomb strapped around his waist.
"I told him if he felt that's what he had to do, I would stand behind him," Jefferson said. "He asked if I would call his family and let them know how much he loved them. He told me his name, address and phone number in Cranbury, N.J. I told him I would."
Jefferson said she stayed calm because Beamer was calm. "I didn't want to get upset, irrational or anything to upset him," she said. "At that point, we needed to stay level headed and try to work out a plan. We were hoping that if they took the plane over, that that plane would land safely.
She said the last thing she heard Beamer say was, "'Are you ready? OK, let's roll.'"
Noting that she has received many awards since 2001, Jefferson said, "This one is special because they're honoring women - all women that have done extraordinary things. Usually when you think of heroes, you think of a man. But to see all these women being honored here today, I feel it's an honor to be part of it."