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9/11/2010: Remembering James Joe Ferguson

Posted by Bruce Carroll at 9:37 am - September 11, 2010.
Filed under: Joe Ferguson,Post 9-11 America

Today, nine 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 nine years ago this morning.

We miss you, Joe.
-Bruce and John

2010 note: Most folks on 9/11  naturally think of the thousands who died in the WTC, or in the Pentagon or on Flight 93.  When I reflect on this day, I immediately think of Joe and his fellow passengers on Flight 77.  In some ways, they are the forgotten victims.  “Truthers” insist no plane hit the Pentagon.  The families of those who died on Flight 77 would beg to differ.  In any case, Flight 77 illustrates how ruthless Islamic terrorists are.   Imagine sitting in your seat as your plane accelerates to 500 mph but you see the ground coming up fast and you know you are going to die.  That folks, is the definition of “terror”.


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’s 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. Thank you for sharing Joe’s memory with us. God Bless Him and his family and friends today. We SHOULD Never Forget!

    Comment by Cheryl — September 11, 2010 @ 12:05 pm - September 11, 2010

  2. I was working on the NASA EOS project and was planning the Lewis and Clark work with Joe, Alex, Lauren, and John. I was the office manager. He was a very good and decent person. I think about him and those kiddos all the time. He lives on in our minds – he is not forgotten.

    Comment by Chris — September 11, 2010 @ 1:35 pm - September 11, 2010

  3. Thanks for sharing your love and memories of your friend. It helps to know about our missed victims. I’m sure he knew the love of his friends, and that it helped in his last few moments. I’ll remember Joe now too.

    Comment by Ted — September 11, 2010 @ 1:54 pm - September 11, 2010

  4. That sucks, he sounds like a great person.

    I’m sorry you lost a friend.

    Comment by Levi — September 11, 2010 @ 2:28 pm - September 11, 2010

  5. He wasn’t “lost,” Levi. He was brutally murdered by Islamists. Like almost 3,000 people that day.

    Comment by V the K — September 11, 2010 @ 3:06 pm - September 11, 2010

  6. […] Patriot remembers his friend, James Joe […]

    Pingback by Remember… « American Elephants — September 11, 2010 @ 3:14 pm - September 11, 2010

  7. My son’s friend Joe is one of the reasons why we MUST always remember 9/11/2001.
    It rained here today and I think it was saddness showering us.

    Comment by PatriotMom — September 11, 2010 @ 5:22 pm - September 11, 2010

  8. Moving piece. My heart goes out to your friend’s poor mother in Mississippi. No parent expects to bury their child.

    Comment by Ben — September 11, 2010 @ 6:36 pm - September 11, 2010

  9. God Bless your friend Joe and all those other precious people who we lost on that day. I pray for their families as I’m sure the pain is still as cruel as it was on that day.

    Comment by Leslie — September 11, 2010 @ 9:57 pm - September 11, 2010


    let us remember those who died on 9/11 and let us remember those who have died in afghanistan and iraq, those folk who may have shared beliefs similar to the 9/11 terrorists but had never met them. . .many innocent people died both here and abroad.

    Comment by rusty — September 12, 2010 @ 2:34 am - September 12, 2010

  11. images courtesy of jmg

    Comment by rusty — September 12, 2010 @ 2:35 am - September 12, 2010

  12. Bruce, once again I feel for you as you remember Joe. It is truly a memory that is blessed.

    When I was reading through the comments at Hillbuzz for a similar article – the boyz at Hillbuzz lost a good friend by the name of Jane who was working inside the WTC that day – I noticed one person who is an eyewitness to the fate of flight 77. It hit the Pentagon and he saw it happen.

    Other people gave their stories about people who died that day, and most of all about what we were doing when the news came through that there had been an open declaration of war on the USA.

    Comment by StraightAussie — September 12, 2010 @ 2:57 am - September 12, 2010

  13. I met Joe in 1997. We had dinner at Il Radicchio on Capitol Hill. He spoke of his beloved dog and how much he loved his job at N.G. We did not stay in touch after that dinner….but I will never forget the sickness I felt when I flipped through the photos of those murdered at the Pentagon in the Washington Post a few days after 9/11. God bless Joe, his family,and his friends.

    Comment by Mike — September 12, 2010 @ 10:46 am - September 12, 2010

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