By Patti Stuart, STARRS BoD Member, USAFA ‘87
From his earliest days growing up in Long Island, American hero LeRoy W. Homer Jr. dreamed of being a pilot. At 15 years old he began working part-time jobs to pay for flight lessons and secured a private pilot’s license a few short years later. He was a very quick study and an excellent student, gaining acceptance to the Air Force Academy’s Class of 1987. Following graduation, LeRoy completed pilot training and was assigned to McGuire AFB, flying the C-141 Starlifter (at the time, one of the largest aircraft in the world).
LeRoy served in the First Gulf War and later supported operations in Somalia. He was selected as the 21st Air Force’s Aircrew Instructor of the Year for 1993. In 1995, LeRoy separated from active duty, joined the Air Force Reserve, and became a United Airlines pilot. In his reservist role, LeRoy – already an accomplished C-141 instructor – volunteered to be an Admissions Liaison Officer for USAFA. LeRoy earned the rank of major and resided in New Jersey, living a happy life with his wife, Melodie, and his baby daughter, Laurel.
On September 11, 2001, LeRoy served as Captain Jason Dahl on United Airlines Flight 93, Newark to San Francisco. Forty minutes into the flight, the crew was warned of a possible cockpit breach – two other aircraft had already flown into the World Trade Center towers.
With violent sounds of a struggle in the cockpit’s background, at 9:28 a.m. LeRoy shouted a “Mayday” call to Air Traffic Control (ATC). After-action analyses indicate that during the highjacking, First Officer Homer was knocked unconscious and dragged from the cockpit. However, prior to the assault and upon receipt of the ATC warning, the pilots had the foresight to manipulate the automatic pilot to render it impossible for the hijackers to control their aircraft. Indeed, after-action transcripts indicate that one of the hijackers remarked, “This does not work now. Bring the pilot back!” The two pilots were the first to fight the terrorists, and along with the crew and passengers, thwarted an attack on either the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building.
I am humbled and honored to say that I knew LeRoy while at the Air Force Academy. LeRoy was my classmate, and while I did not know him well, my memories of him align with those of his closest friends. During our freshman (Doolie) year, I shared a class with LeRoy after lunch. This was a military class, and admittedly, I had a very hard time staying awake. If it was not for Leroy’s humor I would have had a much harder time. I will remember his perpetual smile forever.
In the wake of 9/11 I have asked many classmates if they knew LeRoy. It turns out that the majority of my 1,000+ classmates knew him and have shared some great stories about him, especially about his attitude and his sense of humor. And his gift to impact so many of us positively. Whether one knew him well or not, all of us express our gratitude for the sacrifice he made on September 11th.
LeRoy posthumously received many awards and citations for his actions on that tragic day, but I believe he would be pleased most with the establishment of The LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation, founded in 2002. This foundation was established to encourage and support young adults who wish to pursue careers as professional pilots and to increase awareness in the field of aviation. In support of this goal, The LeRoy Homer Jr. Foundation has awarded twenty-seven scholarships toward the goal of obtaining a private pilot’s license. What a fitting legacy for such a superior role model, pilot and individual!