Kevin Riordan: In Shanksville, a widow recalls the hero she lost

Melodie Homer, widow of LeRoy W. Homer Jr., copilot of United Flight 93. She has started a foundation that has helped 13 people across the country get flying licenses.
Melodie Homer, widow of LeRoy W. Homer Jr., copilot of United Flight 93. She has started a foundation that has helped 13 people across the country get flying licenses.
Posted: September 11, 2011

Melodie Homer will be in Shanksville, Pa., on Sunday to help commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 - and to remember, once again, the hero she lost.

LeRoy W. Homer Jr. was the copilot on United Airlines Flight 93 out of Newark when four terrorists commandeered it, possibly planning to plunge it into the U.S. Capitol.

The handsome aviator from Marlton and everyone else aboard died when the Boeing 757 crashed instead into the Pennsylvania countryside. Leroy Homer was 36 years old.

"All things considered, I'm OK," Melodie said by phone when asked about her state of mind in the days before this year's observation. "I don't necessarily find [commemorations] helpful. The attention I've had can feel very overwhelming . . . and this is an anniversary that's receiving so much attention."

Her husband died when the couple's child, Laurel, was just 10 months old. Melodie later adopted a boy, now 6. She works as a registered nurse and clinical nursing instructor at Burlington County College.

"Having to talk about LeRoy," she said, "can be very draining."

Melodie met her husband - a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate originally from Long Island - on a blind date. They were married 31/2 years.

A deeply private person, Melodie has had to live a public life. She appeared in the recent 9/11 documentary Out of the Ashes, and has written a memoir, From Where I Stand (Langdon Street Press), due out in November.

The 18-month writing process "was excruciating," said the native Canadian, now 45. But it presents "an honest picture of what the last 10 years of my life have been like."

It also offers what she calls indisputable proof that her husband and flight Capt. Jason Dahl "did something that caused the airplane to not function well" and prevented the terrorists from reaching their target.

Flight 93 is celebrated for what's been portrayed as a passenger rebellion that thwarted the terrorists.

"My husband and Jason," Melodie said, "are often overlooked."

Charity work also helps her cope.

Since 2002, her LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation has helped 13 young people across the country obtain civilian flying licenses. The training can cost more than $10,000. The group has handed out $150,000 so far.

Melodie invited recipients to Burlington County last month for a foundation event marking the 10th anniversary.

"It was great having them here and seeing all they've accomplished," she said.

The five I interviewed said the scholarship had changed their lives.

"It essentially enabled me to start my career in flying, to actually get my foot in aviation," said Air Force Second Lt. Courtney Schaer, who obtained a private pilot's license while in high school in California.

She's now 22 and pilots fighter planes.

Lt. j.g. Michael Scott, 25, flies for the U.S. Navy.

"The scholarship basically gave me a foundation, to learn all the basic flying principles in small civil aircraft," said Scott, who obtained his civilian license at age 17 in Omaha, Neb.

"Without this, I wouldn't right now be a commercial pilot, or a certified flight instructor," said Josh Mech, a 19-year-old junior at Southern Illinois University.

To Scott, who was in 10th grade in Virginia on 9/11, the scholarships are "something amazing that's happened from [a] tragic event."

To Melodie, the foundation is a way to "hold onto aviation," and also to "carry a little bit of LeRoy forward."

That's especially important when the hoopla attending each 9/11 anniversary is over.

"I have a very difficult time on Sept. 12," Melodie said.

She is grateful for the "empathy and concern" of family, friends, and even strangers who have offered comfort.

Her faith is a comfort, too.

"I hope I will see my husband again," Melodie says. "I believe in eternity."


Contact staff writer Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845, kriordan@phillynews.com, or @inqkriordan on Twitter. Read the metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at http://www.philly.com/blinq.

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