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Remembering 9/11: Daughter of Flight 11 Pilot Reflects

Caroline Ogonowski ’09, MA’11, talks about her loss and coping with life after 9/11

Caroline Ogonowski ’09, MA’11, holds a photo of her father, John Ogonowski, the captain of American Airlines Flight 11. (Photos by Lee Pellegrini)

A native of Dracut, Mass., Caroline Ogonowski ’09, MA’11, is the daughter of John Ogonowski, the captain of American Airlines Flight 11 who was killed when the jetliner he was piloting was hijacked by terrorists on 9/11 and flown into New York City’s World Trade Center. Ogonowski works as a supported employment specialist at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass.    

In past years, I have observed the anniversary of 9/11 both publicly and privately. Some years I have gone to the memorial services in Boston and other times I have stayed home and observed the day privately with my family. This year we will be participating in the events in Boston. I will be attending these events with my mom, Peg [Margaret LaValle, BC Class of 1956], her new husband Bill Hatch, and my sisters Laura and Mary.

Also, I am a member of the Massachusetts Red Cross Board of Directors and each year on the anniversary they have a blood drive at Fenway Park in honor of 9/11. I have helped out throughout the year as a board member and family member to plan for this event. The Red Cross does an amazing job and I have been encouraging as many people to come to this drive. I will be going over to Fenway to donate, along with my family and a group of friends on 9/11.  

These events are a great way to come together with other family members who lost loved ones on 9/11 and to remember and honor them together. I imagine after this year’s events I will spend the future anniversaries more privately. 

This being the 10th anniversary, I feel it is important to be there to remember. Despite the events being public, sharing the memories together with other family members, and others from Massachusetts, whether they knew someone or not, is healing.  

I think that having a personal link to the tragedy makes it harder for me to see the changes that have occurred due to that day. When I hear “9/11” I automatically think about my dad, my family, and my connection to the day. One thing that really struck me as one of those “aha” moments was my freshman year at BC when I took a Modern History course. The material for the class went from around World War I and ended with 9/11. 

Seeing that day in the context of “history” showed me how truly monumental this day was, and that it will forever remain a large part of my personal history, as well as the history of our country, and our world. This was one of the first times I really saw 9/11 as a global event, and less of a personal and private event.  

I think there have been many important changes, good and bad, that have come out of 9/11. One outcome that has always stuck with me was the amazing reaction that our country had to that day.  Not only was I personally taken care of by my community, but the whole country as well. 

The outpouring of support, unity and patriotism is something that I will never forget. I work with veterans now, and when I see some of the younger men returning I sometimes wonder if they were one of the many who enlisted due to 9/11. I have heard that time in our countries history described in the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” I will always look back on the years following 9/11 with great pride.  

There were so many wonderful qualities about my dad that I hope to pass onto my children one day. One of the things that I remember most about him was that he spent his life building and contributing. 

He spent his time trying to get land preserved and protected so that future generations can have open space. He taught immigrant farmers how to cultivate the New England soil. And he would come home after flying from another continent and make sure that my sisters and I were caught up on our math homework. Whether flying in a plane, farming the land, or spending time with family and friends, we were always learning from him. When I think about what happened to him, I can’t help but think that the actions of a few were to take something away, and my dad had spent his life doing the opposite.   

When I want to feel close to him, all I have to do is go to the farm and walk into the peach orchard or into the blueberry fields. It may sound silly, but each year when the peaches and blueberries, and all the other vegetation that he planted on the farm come back, I feel like that is part of his legacy living on. I remember watching him plant those little peach trees when I was a little girl, and now they have grown so tall and thick that I can sit underneath them and be invisible to people passing by. 

The fact that each year they grow back is just another sign of his contribution and how it will continue to live on, despite his life having been cut short.

Before she became UGBC president, Grace Simmons '05 was a freshman on the BC campus during 9/11. Read her thoughts in our next story.