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Let's Roll

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROITJimmy Howard never met Todd Beamer.

But that didn’t stop the Red Wings’ goalie from airbrushing Beamer’s catchphrase – one of the most iconic rallying cries in U.S. history – on the back of his mask nearly 10 years ago.

Beamer was one of 44 innocent souls lost when United Airlines Flight 93 clashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania on 9/11. The 32-year-old account manager, who was born in Flint, Mich., is credited for coining the phrase, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!”

As Islamic extremists carried out their satanic reign of terror on that fateful day, Howard – then a 17-year-old senior – sat in Mrs. Irene Kennedy’s study hall at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“We were sitting there, I want to say that it was like 9:15 in the morning and we got word about it when we were sitting in study hall,” said Howard of the two airplanes that flew into the World Trade Center. “You know, everything just kind of stopped. We were doing our homework and it was like, ‘This couldn’t be.’

“I remember the teacher at the time was trying to round us all up and we all scattered like water bugs to the nearest TV to see what was happening.”

On Sunday, following the Red Wings’ six-hour flight back from San Jose, Howard again was reminded of 9/11 when word began to spread among teammates that Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda mastermind responsible for plotting the murder of nearly 3,000 victims, had been killed by Navy SEALS during a nighttime raid on his compound in Pakistan.

“When we landed in Detroit everyone’s cell phones started blowing up and Chris (Osgood) and I drove home and listened to CNN the whole way,” Howard said. “It was just great news. And you’re very relieved at the same time that our troops were very fortunate to find him and get some pay back.”

Howard, who is originally from Upstate New York, did not know any of the 9/11 victims nor their families, but his patriotic spirit led him to wanting to remember the victims’ sacrifices.

“I didn’t know anybody, fortunately, but it sort of struck home because we did have one kid from New York City, whose father did work downtown,” he said. “I remember he was a little frantic trying to get a hold of his father.”

Howard said that he remembers learning about Beamer and the “Let’s Roll” acclamation when his coaches on the U.S. Development Team recounted the story of Flight 93.

“The ‘Let’s Roll’ on the back of my mask was a rallying cry when we went over to Slovakia for Worlds, the Under-18s, that year,” Howard said. “The story just stuck with me.

“I’m very patriotic, you know. Whenever I read stories about that, even today, I still get goose bumps and tingles at how shocking it was.”

Since Howard turned pro, he’s updated the artistic design of his custom mask. But one thing will always remain … and that’s the tribute to those who died during the worst act of war on American soil.
“It will always be there to symbolize what those brave men did on that flight,” said Howard, of the two words. “It will always be there as a tribute to them.”

As for the death bin Laden, one of the most-hated villains in human history, Howard said, “You have that sense that you’ve retaliated, but it still makes you wonder what’s going to happen next. Will they try to do something else, or have we cut the head off of the snake?”

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