FORT WORTH, Texas — The gold pins glisten as if they had never been in the fiery explosion of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon on 9-11.
The two pins — AA wings and a APFA logo — worn by a flight attendant on that flight, were returned to American Airlines on Thursday after sitting unclaimed for over a decade in a government agency box.
“It just helps you to know they will never be forgotten, even 13 years later,” said Cathie Ong, who received the pins on behalf of American and the families of crew members who died in the terrorist attacks during a ceremony at the C.R. Smith Museum. Ong’s sister, Betty, was a flight attendant on American Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center.
The pins sit in a shadow box on top of an American flag and will be permanently displayed for the public at the flight museum, which is part of American’s flight academy, where thousands of pilots and flight attendants go for training every year.
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Though it is not known who the pins belonged to, the flights attendants on Flight 77 were: Michele Heidenberger, 57; Renee Ann May, 39; and Jennifer Lewis, 38, and her husband, Kenneth Lewis, 49.
The flight attendant wings pin and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union pin might never have made it back to Fort Worth if it hadn’t been for the keen eye of Joan Cote, director of USO Delaware.
Cote often gives tours of Dover Air Force Base that include the offices of the Joint Personal Effects Depot, a military organization that collects personal effects of fallen military personnel. Items retrieved at the Pentagon are kept at the depot.
“Every time I go in there, I look at the things in the boxes,” Cote said, describing the Flight 77 items that are on display in glass cases in the depot offices. “I think about who that belonged to.”
When she saw the two American pins in 2012, she took a picture of them and emailed them to some of her friends who worked at the airline. Cote said she figured American didn’t even know the pins existed — and she was right.
John Hale, American’s vice president of flight, heard about the pins and contacted Cote to find out how the company might obtain them. The two started the paperwork process with the government agency, finally receiving approval a year later.
The pins have been cleaned and are in good condition. They were not melted by the jet fuel fire that burned for hours after Flight 77 hit the Pentagon.
APFA president Laura Glading said she wept the first time she saw the pins.
“Our uniform would be nothing but a polyester-blend suit but when we put on those pins and those wings, we are transformed into a professional,” Glading said. “These [pins] are very important to us.”
Cote was tasked with transporting the pins from Delaware to Fort Worth. She flew to Fort Worth in October with the pins, which were placed in the cockpit for the ride back to Texas.
“I felt the crew members in my heart,” said Cote, remembering she thought to herself, “I’m taking you home.”