By Greg Buckley @GBUCKKING
Anna Clare Burnett, 18, enjoys writing, a passion she pours into her journal. She likes to work out, hang with friends and let the sensations of the beach relax her mind. She plays guitar, piano, and sang for her church.
She just enrolled in Pepperdine University, where she majors in journalism. Her passport — stamped in Greece, Italy, Amsterdam, throughout the Carribbean Islands — stays tucked in her back pocket, ready for the next adventure.
This Pleasanton native lives a full life, serving as a testament to the American spirit. Because 15 years ago, terrorists tried to take something from this country, and in the process took her dad. But they didn’t take her freedom. They couldn’t hijack her love.
Anna lives in a world that is full of crutches. She could have easily given up, leaned on self-pity, blamed her circumstance. But she is the daughter of a hero.
While many students, including thousands at LPC, have lives dominated by the mundane, people like Burnett are reminders of how just living and moving forward is a testimony all its own. Hidden in the monotony of college life is also the magnificence of overcoming.
“If there is one thing I have learned from my mother,” Burnett said via email, “it’s that there is light in every darkness. Something good can come from everything no matter how tragic! Once I accepted this, everything just became easier.”
On September 11, 2001, two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, one into each of the twin skyscrapers that bolstered the skyline of America’s signature city and symbolized the country’s economic prowess. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, the epicenter of the U.S.’s military might.
The fourth plane in this coordinated attack was United Airlines Flight 93, scheduled to fly from New Jersey to San Francisco. It was believed to be headed to the U.S. Capital or the White House.
Four of the 37 passengers were armed with knives and box cutters. They struck 40 minutes into the flight and gained control of the plane, announcing to the passengers there was a bomb aboard. Several passengers retreated to the back of the plane to call loved ones.
“On the morning it all happened, we were in the kitchen watching planes crash into the World Trade Center,” she said. “My mom ran upstairs for a while and my sisters and I had no clue what was going on. Then, all I remember is her just absolutely wailing.”
Thomas Burnett Jr. was one of the passengers. He was CEO and Vice President of the Thoratec Corporation, a medical technology company based in Pleasanton. Most important, he was husband to Deena and father of three girls.
Anna Claire, 3 at the time, was his youngest.
One of the last things Thomas Burnett said was, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.”
The passengers and crew began their counterattack to regain control. United Flight 93 crashed into a rural field in Stoney Creek, Penn., killing all 44 people on board. But it didn’t hit its intended target.
“I do remember a couple of days later, my mom sat us all down in my bedroom,” Burnett said. “She said, ‘Girls, there were some bad people on daddy’s plane. He isn’t coming home.”
Anna Claire’s father died a hero that day. His actions will be remembered forever as America is resolved to never forget 9/11. And the tragedy his family suffered pushed them to great things.
In that way, the Burnett family is a microcosm of America. On that fateful morning, 2,977 people were killed and over 6,000 more were injured in the worst attack to ever take place on American soil. On this 15th anniversary, the country can look back and see that the tragedy pushed this nation to great things.
The terrorists’ primary goal failed. Americans still enjoy liberty, still pursuit happiness with full throttle. Perhaps more important, Americans have even greater perspective, a deeper sense of ambition.
That is what Burnett represents. Achieving through adversity.
No, it wasn’t an easy road to this point. Life growing up as the child of a hero still had its issues even though they were a family with means.
After the loss of her husband, Deena moved with her three daughters to Little Rock, Ark., to be closer with family, which was their plan if something ever happened to him. In Little Rock they would have a support structure.
But the after effects of a death comes in many forms.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it is to grow up without a father,” Anna said. “Going to friend’s houses, watching their dads carry them to bed and tuck them in, or take them to father-daughter dances, and making cards during school.”
She often felt singled out, different than the other kids. Everybody knew who she was, who her father was, which made for many uncomfortable moments.
On the anniversaries of 9/11 she would get mysteriously called to the office. While she was out of the classroom, her teacher would talk with other students about being careful what they say about 9/11 around her.
Looking back, she said she appreciates the support she received at Christ the King, which served as her school and the family’s church.
But she also remembers the trust issues she had. She said her mom wasn’t allowed to even touch her at one point.
Her mother did everything she could, but Anna was still missing a huge void. A father. No one could fill those shoes. But Donald Burchfield, her grandfather, tried his best.
“He kind of filled that empty place in my heart,” she said. “He picked me up from school every day and we would make peanut butter sandwiches and apple pies. He taught me so many things, just like a dad would.”
She has grown to idolize her mom. She speaks about her with the same reverence she does her father. Deena is her best friend and biggest cheerleader. Deena is everyone’s biggest cheerleader.
Eventually, the Burnett family got its bearings and Anna started to blossom, sprouting into a promising woman. Her faith grew and she became empowered enough to become the author of her story.
Her friends describe her as an intellectual, optimist and an adventurer. She is bright, sincere, and helpful.
It resignates on the Social Media platform. On her Facebook page it is filled with compliments and warmth. Her friend Mitzi Osborne says, “Thank you for who you are. Can sure see your Mom in that sweet face”.
Burnett chose Pepperdine for a reason. Her father graduated from the Graziadio Business School there.
The Heroes Garden on campus is a living memorial that was dedicated by Deena and her family. It’s an interactive garden packed with symbolizing and meaning. The Garden is intended to remember the events of 9/11 and honor its victims and survivors.
The entrance to Heroes Garden features six steps. According to Biblical numerology, six symbolizes humans and their vulnerability.
There are six steps, because six is an incomplete numbers, and one short of seven which represents perfection. This was done with the intent to represent the incomplete lives the victims of 9/11 endured.
The Garden is comprised of five areas, all meant to represent a different aspect of emotion. The number five represents god’s grace, goodness, and favor towards humans. Each area includes citations etched within stone. Two by former U.S. presidents. One by the CEO of Pepperdine.
The other two are by Deena. Burnett especially likes this gem from her mother.
“Heroes can give their lives all at one time, or they can give a little each day.”