Remembering Donald F. Greene of Flight 93

Posted: Sep 11, 2006 4:34 PM

More on the 2996 project, here.

Donald F. Greene was a father, a husband, and a brother, and a son. On Sept. 11, 2001 he left his family behind when Flight 93 plowed into a field in Shanksville, Penn.

Born in New York City on May 21, 1949, he was graduated from Suffield Academy in Suffield, CT in 1967, received a B.S in Engineering from Brown University in 1971, and obtained an MBA from Pace University in 1983. A loving father, husband, brother, son, Donald Greene lived his life with love, integrity, intelligence, humor and compassion. He leaves many whom he loved and who loved him.

He is survived by his wife, the former Claudette Beaulieu, and their children, Charles Freeman and Jody Cecilia; his father, Leonard M. Greene, and stepmother, Joyce Meller Greene; his siblings, Douglas F. Greene (Carla), Randall A. Greene (Anne), Charles F. Greene (Gail), Bonnie G. Le Var (John), Jeffrey B. Meller (Christine), William Meller, Gary Meller (Maureen), Laurie G. Baldwin (Norman), Stephen F. Greene (Truddi), Amy Gerbe (Thomas), Terry A. Greene (Beth Radcliffe); numerous nieces and nephews; and a host of devoted friends and co-workers.

The father of two from Greenwich, Conn. was 52 when he became a victim of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. But he didn't spend that morning being a victim. Instead, he became one of a small group of brave passengers who took back their plane on that clear day after it became apparent the flight and their lives were to be used as a weapon against their fellow citizens.

His sister, Amy Gerbe:

But the family suspects that Greene was the passenger who reportedly tried to call an emergency operator from a locked bathroom aboard the flight, which authorities say a group of passengers attempted to take back from the hijackers. "He was a pilot. He would have done what he could," she said. "We are only fortunate because we know where he is. Our hearts go out to the other families," Gerbe said.Greene had been on his way that morning to meet up with his three brothers for a camping trip. He was an aviation enthusiast and a family man who made a point of having dinner with his family most nights.

His sister-in-law Cecilia Rhoda:

"There is no question in our minds that Don was a hero in this," said Greene's sister-in-law, Cecilia Rhoda. "He was the type of person who would have taken charge in this kind of situation, and we're certain he's one of those persons responsible for diverting the flight and saving many lives."

Greene had been on his way to Lake Tahoe that morning to meet his brothers for a biking and hiking trip. One of twelve children, the trip was less a special occasion than a routine get-together for this big, close family.

Greene, one of four brothers, was born in White Plains, N.Y. When his father died, his mother married Leonard Greene, the inventor of the stall warning indicator used in aircraft today, and Greene adopted the boys. By the time Greene's mother died and Leonard himself remarried, the family had ballooned to 12 children.

Every Thanksgiving, all the siblings made a point of gathering for a week at a resort; Greene carried that same emphasis on family to his own brood. He dined with his wife and children every night at their Greenwich, Conn. home, whipped up breakfast for them most weekends and coached children's soccer teams. He also took the children flying.

Greene's daughter Jody was just 6 when he died. His son Charlie was 10. He coached their soccer teams and often cooked them breakfast on the weekends. Charlie was as much an aviation enthusiast as his dad, and could run off a pre-flight check list by himself.

"Of all Don's strengths, parenting was his forte," said Peter Fleiss, a colleague and friend of more than 25 years. "He absolutely adored his children."

This is Jody, on the first anniversary of her father's death, honoring his memory on a field in Western Pennsylvania:

From a heart-breaking story about Father's Day, 2003:

For some children, this week brings challenges, too. Claudette Greene of Greenwich, Conn., who lost her husband, Donald, on Sept. 11 in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93, has two children, 11 and 8.

"Father's Day is a day they would prefer to have erased from the calendar, especially when they're asked in school to create special tokens for that day," Mrs. Greene says in an e-mail.

Claudette and her husband met in 1987:

He met his wife, Claudette, during a black tie fund-raiser...

That night, all the facets of his personality converged -- his down-to-earth nature, positive outlook, charm and his piloting skills.

The event was held in an airplane hangar, with small planes parked in a semicircle to create an intimate space. They were one short, so Greene's stepmother, a museum president, asked him to fly in the final plane as a favor. She promised him a reward: a ticket to the dinner and dance. Greene told her he'd be happy to help, but forget the ticket.

When he arrived, though, Greene acquiesced, agreeing to stay. He found himself seated next to Claudette, whose own date, her brother, had canceled. They hit it off right away.

This is Claudette, with Jody.

Greene graduated with an engineering degree from Brown University in 1971. He left an impression on his brothers in the Theta Delta Chi fraternity there. From an online condolence book for Greene:

I had the pleasure of knowing Don when I rushed the house in 1971. He was a senior that year and I was a freshman, so my interaction with him was brief, but he made a lasting impression as one of the nicer guys in the house with a great sense of humor.

To those of us who knew him, the speculation that he may have been involved in foiling the terrorists' plans that day are all too plausible. Don was never one to shy away from a difficult task. His enthusiasm and his gung ho attitude make us all certain that he would have been in the middle of any attempt by the passengers to retake the aircraft, especially in light of his pilot skills.

On May 29, 2004, a group of his fraternity brothers from the classes in the early 70's had a reunion at Brown University. On that day we took a few moments to recall the life of Don Greene and some of our experiences with him. We followed that with a moment of silence to honor his memory.

We send his family our deepest condolences. Those who were lucky enough to know him were better for it. 

My thoughts and prayers are with the Greene family today. I can't imagine what it must be like to have lived these five years without your father, or your husband, or your son, and know that's just the way it must be for always.

You can honor Donald's memory and his love for his children by giving to scholarship funds for children who lost parents in 9/11, here. Hat tip to Michelle.

Donald's sister-in-law asked this question at the time of his death:

"Why do they always take the best ones?" Rhoda asked. "Donald was definitely the best."

There is no telling how many lives Donald F. Greene may have helped save on Sept. 11, 2001. From all of the rest of us to Donald and the Greene family: Thank you, and we will never, ever forget.

Update: Katie Favazza honors James R. Paul. Any other Townhall bloggers participating in the 2996 project, feel free to leave links in the comments, and I'll get them linked in this post. Thank you.

Update: Craig William Staub