(WGHP) — It would be impossible to remember 9/11 locally without mentioning Sandy Bradshaw.
In many ways, she was the Piedmont Triad’s most direct link to what happened that day.
She grew up in Randolph County, lived in Greensboro, and was a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 93. She and 39 other passengers and crew perished when that Boeing 757 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
But moments before, they stormed the cockpit, changed the course of the plane and kept it away from Washington, DC, where it certainly would have crashed and killed hundreds of others.
Eight days after 9/11, I interviewed her husband, Phil, in what would be — even to this day — the most difficult story I’ve ever produced.
Recently, he and I spoke again. And this time, his and Sandy’s daughter Alexandra joined us.
Here’s how our interview started:
“You can say the 20-year mark. For me, it’s not the 20-year mark to me. It seems like it happened yesterday. And it’s just another year in my book,” Phil told me.
At her memorial service one week after 9/11, someone said Sandy Bradshaw had it all: warmth, grace, bubbly enthusiasm, a radiant smile.
The day after that service, here’s what Phil told me.
“She’s such a joy. She was the joy of my life. She was absolutely wonderful. She still lives in my heart. Absolutely wonderful.”
In addition to Phil, Sandy left behind three young children.
Oldest daughter Shenan remembers her.
But on Sept. 11, 2001, Alexandra was just 2 years old. Her brother Nathan was almost a year old.
Recently, Phil and Alex agreed to speak with me:
Neill: “I guess you don’t remember your mom at all, or do you?”
Alex: “I have one memory of my mom. We were here (at home). I was, it was June I believe, before she passed away. It was her birthday. Her birthday was in June. And my older sister was babysitting my brother and me. And mom and dad were out to dinner for her birthday.
“And I remember mom and dad getting home and walking in and mom was wearing a red dress, and I could hear her voice. I just don’t know what she was saying. And there’s a picture of the three of us, my sister, me and mom standing around the cake, smiling.”
But three months later, Sandy would be gone. She died doing what she loved professionally in an industry in which both she and Phil were veterans.
At the time, Phil was a US Airways Captain.
And what happened on 9/11, he says, he still can’t shake — two decades later.
Phil: “It just repeats over and over. And it’s the same thing.”
Neill: “Do you think about it every day?”
Phil: “Oh yes. I think about the whole day. I mean, I think more about Sandy then than the whole day. You know what I mean. If just — you know — and then I’ll drift off and try to imagine what my life would be like if she was still around and, you know, try to improvise a little.”
There have been trips to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to visit the Flight 93 Memorial.
He’s also accompanied the children to New York City to see the names of the 9/11 victims — including Sandy’s — listed where the Trade Center Towers once stood…
…a tracing of Sandy’s name from that site hangs in Phil’s home office. But it’s done little to ease the pain.
“When I think of Sandy, I get sad. And Lord knows I miss her,” he said.
But the children — he says — have made the difference.
“They probably kept me alive,” he said. “Because I was so busy taking care of them I didn’t have time for anything else. And it was just seeing them and watching them grow up. It was absolutely wonderful.”
Alex: “And to be the daughter of Sandy Bradshaw, I love it.”
Neill: “What do people ask you when they find that out?”
Alex: “How old were you is always the first question. Do you remember anything? People always tell me I look a lot like her, which I love hearing.”
And Phil gets comfort knowing how proud Sandy would be of the children.
Alex is a recent Appalachian State graduate and works in the hospitality industry. Nathan is a student at Virginia Tech. And as for Shenan….
…well, Dr. Shenan Bradshaw is now an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
“I want people to know that Sandy was a part of 9/11,” Phil told me. “And she’s now a part of history, and she’s probably etched in the history book somewhere.”
Phil says the one thing about Alex that reminds him of Sandy is her smile. Alex says her dad’s done a great job of being both a dad and mom. She also says she’s learned a lot from her older sister who, at times, has been like a mom to her.
But no one will fully take the place of the mom and wife they both lost two decades ago.