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9/11/2009: Remembering James Joe Ferguson

Posted by Bruce Carroll at 9:37 am - September 11, 2009.
Filed under: Joe Ferguson,Post 9-11 America

Today, eight years after the terror attacks on America, I once again dedicate this space to my lost friend, James Joe Ferguson, who was killed aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when that plane was used as a weapon and crashed into the Pentagon.  This posting goes up at the exact time that plane was flown into the Pentagon eight years ago this morning.

We miss you, Joe.
-Bruce and John


The last time we had dinner, Joe told my partner John and I about how much he was looking forward to being a part of the bicentennial of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Typically, I found myself jealous of him. In his role as Director of Geographic Education at the National Geographic Society, Joe had one of the most unique and rewarding jobs I can ever imagine having.

He traveled around the world, bringing American school children face-to-face with the natural wonders of our Earth.   He was not only a teacher but also provided a critical turning point for these kids, many of whom had never before left their own neighborhoods.  Joe provided the path for these students to experience things that many of us never will in our entire lives.

In addition, he got to travel to the four corners of the globe. How rewarding that must have been. How do I sign up for that job?

I got an email from Joe on Thursday, September 6, 2001.   “Hi cutie” it started — typical opening line for Joe to any of his friends.  He had just returned from Alaska and wanted to tell show me all the pictures, but the following week he said he was headed to California for another work trip.  I printed out and kept that email for many months in my briefcase as a way to keep Joe alive.

As dawn broke on September 11, 2001, Joe called his Mom in Mississippi to give her a wake up call as he always did when he traveled.  He said to her, “I’ll call you when I get to California. Have a good day.”  He was that kind of person.  The kind of person, who, no matter where he was and how busy he was, dropped a postcard to his friends so we could share a part of his experiences throughout the world.

At Dulles International Airport, Joe stood with his group traveling to California and took some last minute photos.  He and another colleague were scheduled passengers on American Airlines Flight 77, accompanying three D.C. public school teachers and three students on a National Geographic-sponsored field trip to the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara, Calif. After the photos were taken, they bid farewell to the children’s parents and proceeded to their gate.

At 9:37AM, Joe lost his life at the young age of thirty-nine when terrorists slammed the plane into the side of the Pentagon at 500 mph.  A teacher and positive role model to young Americans was taken from the world in an act of sheer violence and viciousness.

As I was dealing with the many emotions of the events of September 11, a thought crossed my mind the next day.  Gosh, I thought, Joe had said he was traveling and now he’s stuck somewhere until the airlines are allowed to fly again.   So I called his work number in DC and left a message.  After I heard his voice for the last time, I said “Give me a call if you are checking messages.”  “I hope you make it home soon,” I concluded.  When I called that day, I had no idea.

It wasn’t until Friday, September 14 that I found out that one of my dearest friends had become a casualty of the attacks on America.  Suddenly, this war was personal  — it had hit home.  I wasn’t expecting to have to go to two memorial services and walk around in a state of numbness for many weeks.

At Joe’s memorial service, there were lots of tears and lots of laughs as well.  One of Joe’s friends told the gathering that Joe had this way of making you feel as if you were his best friend in the world. I knew exactly what he meant.  I saw Joe every once in a while.  We would have lunch, or more likely trade emails or phone calls.  But every time we talked, I felt like Joe’s best friend.  Joe still has a lot of best friends all around the world.

Perhaps Joe’s death hit me so hard because it was the first death of someone close to me that I had experienced as an adult.  I am still surprised by the impact that his death has had, and in many ways continues to have, on my life.

In fact, I did a lot of personal reflecting in the months following 9/11.  I questioned how important my job and even my life were in a time of war where terrorists could invade your workplace or your school and slaughter you with no remorse.  I questioned what value and worth my own career had in comparison with a man who had chosen to teach and change the lives of young people.   I felt trapped in a good job that was giving me no personal satisfaction.

All I could remember was how happy Joe always was and how that cheer was infectious to all of his friends and colleagues.  I would miss that cheerful influence on me.   Joe had made the choice to live life to the fullest extent possible.   He was the model of the optimistic American who knows no frontiers and no bounds.  He was doing more than his fair share of contributing to a better society.

My partner John and I took a trip to the American West in the summer of 2003 and followed some of the Lewis & Clark Trail.  I know Joe would have loved the scenery and spirit of America that lives and breathes in the land of Montana and Wyoming.  The IMAX film about the “Corps of Discovery” produced by the National Geographic Society — Lewis & Clark: The Great Journey West — was dedicated to the memory of Joe Ferguson.  It is available on DVD and I strongly recommend watching it.

One day in early 2002, I heard a song on the radio that I don’t remember hearing before 9/11/2001.  I didn’t even know it was LeeAnn Womack voice, because the words are the soul and essence of Joe Ferguson.  The words are an expression of his personal passion and love of life.  And the words are also an inspiration for all of us to get through the many trying days of our post-9/11 world.

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder.
Get your fill to eat, but always keep that hunger.
May you never take one single breath for granted.
God forbid love ever leave you empty-handed.
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens.
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance.
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance.
Never settle for the path of least resistance.
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances, but they’re worth takin.
Lovin’ might be a mistake, but its worth makin.
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter.
When you come close to sellin’ out, reconsider.
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance.
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.
I hope you dance.



  1. Remember When The New York Times Reported The News? We Will Never Forget. Warner Wolf, 11 September 2001.

    Comment by keyboard jockey — September 11, 2009 @ 10:02 am - September 11, 2009

  2. Bruce,

    While I was lucky enough to not lose anyone directly in the attack, I do remember the sense of horror and dread I felt when I realized the daughter of a friend might be in the Pentagon. I was relieved to find out she was not on site when the plane hit the building.

    Listening to Glen Beck this morning, and he was playing clips from the morning of the attack. Chilled my soul and brought tears to my eyes.

    Comment by The_Livewire — September 11, 2009 @ 11:09 am - September 11, 2009

  3. Thank you Bruce, this post is as moving now as it was 8 years ago. We lost many wonderful Americans to an awful belief system. We must keep on fighting evil.

    Comment by Leah — September 11, 2009 @ 12:16 pm - September 11, 2009

  4. Just a great remembrance. This is what we must do each year to keep putting a human face on that vile and repugnant act on 9-11. I have an remembrance for Stephen Lauria on my blog today. Stephen worked on the 97th floor of Tower 1.

    Thanks again for keeping the memories alive . . .

    Comment by NebraskaPatriot — September 11, 2009 @ 12:17 pm - September 11, 2009

  5. God bless you for writing this.
    And may God save all of us.

    Best wishes,

    Comment by MFS — September 11, 2009 @ 12:42 pm - September 11, 2009

  6. I didn’t know anyone personally who died that day, but you have brought it even closer to my heart with the story of your friend.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Carol — September 11, 2009 @ 1:10 pm - September 11, 2009

  7. As Joe was my dearest and closest friend, I share your grief every year on this sad anniversary and am so happy to see Joe remembered as he should be. I miss him every day of my life, every year and always will. The emptiness I still feel 8 years alter in my heart will never be filled, but my heart will always be filled with love, admiration, and devotion to my Joe! For anyone that wishes to view or sign his memorial guest book:

    God bless,
    Steve Snyder

    Comment by Steve Snyder — September 11, 2009 @ 1:21 pm - September 11, 2009

  8. Thank you for sharing. May he rest in peace.

    Comment by CattusMagnus — September 11, 2009 @ 2:16 pm - September 11, 2009

  9. I’m so sorry about your friend. We say we will never forget…unfortunately it seems too many Americans have.
    Thank you for your blog post.

    Comment by Jett — September 11, 2009 @ 2:17 pm - September 11, 2009

  10. I also did not lose anyone close to me that day, but my father was working his building on the National Mall. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard my mother as frantic as she was on the phone that morning when no one knew what was going on and she couldn’t get in touch with him. I cannot even imagine how much more difficult it is for those who lost loved ones.

    Thank you for this great post, Bruce.

    Comment by Neptune — September 11, 2009 @ 2:51 pm - September 11, 2009

  11. Thanks for this tribute for your friend and our fellow American. May he rest in peace and may you and his family be comforted in the memories that you have of him. Thank you also for reminding us of that tragic day in our great country. I too cried when I read your entry. I will never forget what I experienced on that day, eight years ago.

    I have never commented on this site, although I read it daily. I am extremely grateful that there are other gay men and women out there who feel as strongly about the issues at hand concerning the well being of our country and our personal liberties. I plan to attend the Tea Party in DC tomorrow in an effort to stand up for what I believe in, and to be counted as one who does not agree with the direction that our country is headed. Keep up the great work and May God, be merciful to all of us.

    Comment by Kevin — September 11, 2009 @ 2:54 pm - September 11, 2009

  12. My condolences to another victim of the senseless barbarism displayed on Sept. 11.

    Even more senseless is the Teleprompter-In-Chief’s trivializing this day’s meaning by declaring it some kind of community organizer holiday. Liberals in general and Democrats in particular go deaf, dumb and blind in the face of true evil. Never fails.

    Now as I recall those Americans who recognized evil on Flight 93 and fought back before crashing to their doom, I can only think of how each one of these Flight 93 heroes was A REGISTERED REPUBLICAN (including that GAY RUGBY PLAYER!!!)

    Comment by Joe S. — September 11, 2009 @ 3:02 pm - September 11, 2009


    And death shall have no dominion.
    Dead men naked they shall be one
    With the man in the wind and the west moon;
    When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
    They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
    Though they go mad they shall be sane,
    Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
    Though lovers be lost love shall not;
    And death shall have no dominion.

    And death shall have no dominion.
    Under the windings of the sea
    They lying long shall not die windily;
    Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
    Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
    Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
    And the unicorn evils run them through;
    Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
    And death shall have no dominion.

    And death shall have no dominion.
    No more may gulls cry at their ears
    Or waves break loud on the seashores;
    Where blew a flower may a flower no more
    Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
    Though they be mad and dead as nails,
    Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
    Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
    And death shall have no dominion.

    ~ Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), the great Welsh poet and writer

    Comment by maria horvath — September 11, 2009 @ 3:37 pm - September 11, 2009

  14. I am not gay, nor a full-fledged Conservative (more of a mushy Moderate 🙂 ), but I wanted to thank you for sharing your story of your friend. He sounds like a wonderful person. Peace to his family and his friends. I’m sure his loss is still deeply felt.

    Comment by Des — September 11, 2009 @ 4:22 pm - September 11, 2009

  15. There were several Australians who died in the inferno at the WTC.

    My heart goes out to all of the grieving families on this very sad day.

    It was a total shock when I woke to hear about this catastrophe. What was more shocking to me was something that I said on the previous night at a Bible Study, and I was thinking of the first attack on the WTC, not knowing or realizing that Al Qaeda was so determined to bring down the towers.

    There were many famous people on board those airplanes that day. Joe was not as famous as the actors and film directors who also died as their plane hit the WTC.

    Then there are the brave men in the flight that fell to the ground in Pennsylvania. They wrestled with the hijackers. They did what they could and when the plane crashed no one else on the ground was killed.

    My sons watched with horror when the whole thing went down. They got out an empty video tape and taped it. They had remained up that extra half hour or so after I had gone to bed. I awoke to a news service that sounded like War of the Worlds, except it was real. I could not believe my eyes when I turned on the TV and was confronted with that horrible scene.

    My condolences go to you as a friend of Joe, and to Joe’s family. A good man, like many of those on those planes, was lost that day.

    Comment by thestraightaussie — September 11, 2009 @ 4:54 pm - September 11, 2009

  16. I remember hearing about a plane hitting the WTC on the way to work at Continental Airlines (it was a zoo that week). I was thinking it was a small plane and thought about that B-24(?) that crashed into the Empire State building. I figured at most an ATC at New York Center was going to lose his job. If only that had been true.

    I was also driving into Tampa the night, a month or so later, when that kid flew the Cessna into the Bank of America building. Tampanians were a bit edgy that night.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — September 11, 2009 @ 4:56 pm - September 11, 2009


    singer of simple songs

    Comment by rusty — September 11, 2009 @ 5:21 pm - September 11, 2009

  18. What I remember and always will was how good and decent people around the world were united in shock and grief, how Americans stood together shoulder to shoulder. Now we have vile and loathesome “truthers” pushing disgusting lies, civil “libertarians” promoting the rights of terrorists, self loathing Americans blaming everyone except those responsible and fascist Islam still rampaging and preaching their hate.

    Comment by Jack Stack — September 11, 2009 @ 6:48 pm - September 11, 2009

  19. Thanks for the song link, rusty… fitting.

    We should all be lucky enough to know a Joe Ferguson.

    Comment by SoCalRobert — September 11, 2009 @ 7:14 pm - September 11, 2009

  20. Bruce, thank you for such a tribute. Each year I get numb on this day. I think of Joe so often when I wonder about life’s turns and complications.

    I finally open the birthday card that Joe sent me before he got on that plane. I turn 42 in two days and I miss him so much.

    The world changed that day, but for me, each year brings me to a gap in my life that remains so empty and cold. It is the place where Joe should be. God, I miss him.

    DMD, TLB

    Comment by DMD, TLB — September 12, 2009 @ 12:23 am - September 12, 2009

  21. #18

    Worse than ALL of that, Jack, is that we have those in power hell bent on punishing those who protected us. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if they pushed to prosecute the passengers of Flight 93 posthumously.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — September 12, 2009 @ 4:22 am - September 12, 2009

  22. I just came across a dumbass Truther on Facebook… I feel so very angry over the stupidity of the comments…. These creeps deny that flight 77 went into the Pentagon… talk about disrespect for those who perished that day… and all in the name of BDS.

    Comment by thestraightaussie — September 12, 2009 @ 6:33 am - September 12, 2009

  23. I am a school teacher who had the privilege meeting Joe in the Summer of 2001 in a National Geographic Society workshop. We were to work together more but that was not to be.

    Each 9/11 I speak to my students about that day. Reports I have previously seen online said that Joe’s favorite candy was Reese’s PB cups. After speaking about Joe and 9/11 I share PB cups with my students in honor of Joe and the other victims.

    Comment by Patrick Vernon — September 12, 2009 @ 7:57 am - September 12, 2009

  24. Bruce…thanks for sharing your thoughts of your friend who was murdered on September 11. I feel as if I had known Joe, he would be a friend of mine too. God bless him and you too.

    Comment by Mary — September 12, 2009 @ 9:26 am - September 12, 2009

  25. I feel so very angry over the stupidity of the comments….

    I’ve decided to be just as silly. Somebody posted something here the other day about Googling two search terms of some sort. I told him to Google “Borg” and “Temporal Vortex” and get with the program.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — September 12, 2009 @ 1:31 pm - September 12, 2009

  26. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Joe. Joe was lucky to have you as his friend too. The day before 9/11, my husband and I were flying home from Minneapolis. I’m grateful that we got home when we did. The patriotism and pride in our country after 9/11 was so heartwarming. Whenever I heard USA being chanted, tears came to my eyes. If only it was still like that today I volunteered at a Blood Mobile shortly after 9/11; the lines extended outside of the building. I never experienced anything like that before. We’re a great country. I hope we never change, but I’m getting scared.

    Comment by Rosalie — September 12, 2009 @ 6:39 pm - September 12, 2009

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