9/11 Voices: Alice Hoagland, Mother of Mark Bingham
September 09 2011 4:00 AM ET
On a recent afternoon, Alice Hoagland takes a seat in a high-backed navy-blue booth with a slight view of the U.S. Capitol in the distance. It stands intact today quite possibly because of the heroic efforts of her son, Mark Bingham, and a small group of fellow mavericks on United Airlines Flight 93 a decade ago.
Each year, the September 11 anniversary is reliably a blitz of media appearances for the 61-year-old retired United flight attendant who lives in Northern California. On this day, Hoagland appeared in Washington, D.C. at a congressional press conference, met with family members of firefighters killed at the World Trade Center, was a guest via satellite on the U.K.’s Sky News, and is juggling print and radio requests for the remainder of the day. Wearing a trim black blazer and a bronze silk shirt with a snap collar, she orders a glass of fizzy water and smiles broadly.
Hoagland has unforgettable verve. And why not? This is, after all, another opportunity where she gets to talk about memories of her handsome gay rugby-playing son, her enduring pride and joy who, as she told Jon Barrett, The Advocate’s then-news editor, in 2001, “lived the life that [she] always dreamed of.”
The horror of what Bingham and fellow passengers went through on Flight 93 has been transcribed, published, transformed into Hollywood screenplays. Brief audio clips of the cockpit struggle were released Thursday by the Rutgers Law Review. Hoagland has heard the entire recording (the final 30 minutes remain classified) and has recognized her son’s voice. Still smiling, she assures a reporter that her resolve is not impenetrable.
“In some ways I have not progressed through the grief process at all,” Hoagland says. “Sometimes the news of Mark’s death and the whole horror of 9/11 comes back and hits me like fresh bad news — when I’m in my private moments, when I’m by myself. In public I try to be strong the way Mark was strong. But you’re all over the map when you’re a mom who’s lost the most important person to her. I’ve devoted my life to emulating Mark. He taught me how to live.”
This weekend, Hoagland and her sister, Candy, will join other family members of passengers and crew at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will speak at a Saturday opening and dedication ceremony for the 400-acre memorial. President Obama will arrive Sunday for the 10th anniversary commemoration to lay a wreath at the site and greet victims’ families, according to White House officials.
Hoagland says she doesn’t know whether she will get the opportunity to meet Obama. But she knows what she would say. “Mr. President, I’m very grateful to you for your steady support of the LGBT community. I hope you will see to the certain and steady demise of ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’” she says of the military policy set to expire on September 20. “I hope you will encourage the promulgation of marriage equality across the country. I’m grateful you’ve made September 11 a national day of service.”
Then Hoagland adds, with a little pep, “And I’m very grateful to you for seeing through the project of waylaying Osama bin Laden in his nasty little mansion.”