Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer
(This interview took place before Loretta Filipov’s membership in Peaceful Tomorrows)
On September 11, 2001 time was altered for this nation when 19 terrorists from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network hijacked four planes, and on a suicide mission, two crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City destroying it, one crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the destination of the fourth was thwarted when passengers wrestled control of the plane from the hijackers and it crashed into a corn field in Pennsylvania. By the end of the day almost 3000 people had lost their lives. The toll of heartbreak has been immeasurable. The nation was put on alert and President George W. Bush waged a war against terrorism. We now measure time referring to before September 11 and after September 11. There has been a loss of innocence, now there is a great deal of security alert for many of the events that we go to. Concord mourns the loss of Al Filipov, age 70, who was on American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center. His wife Loretta, born in 1936, is being interviewed for Concord’s Oral History Program on the impact of September 11.
Al took Flight 11 all the time. He used to sit in the back yard and see it going overhead and say “That’s my plane” or “Here’s come my plane home”, so it was his flight. He had other choices that morning, but on September 10, he finalized his reservations and decided to go with his usual flight. That way he could sit in the Admiral’s Club and do all the things he always did. That was a very early morning flight and that allowed him to travel that day and still get some work in when he got to California. He left about 5:15-5:30 that morning and at 7:00 he called me from the Admiral’s Club to say he was there. I, however, was in the shower, so I didn’t talk to him, but I knew he got to Logan all right.
September was our month. The 14th would have been our 44th wedding anniversary; the 23rd is the birthday of our oldest son, Alan; the 26th, the day we had the memorial service, is my birthday; and October 12 is David’s birthday. Everything good happened in September and those crisp, cool autumn days with the blue sky were the best. We often went to the beach in September. It was our most favorite thing to do. We were planning on some travel, some golf, and planning to do a lot of things when he came back that Friday morning. For our anniversary for two days we were going to do the golf thing, start in the morning, get the hat, have the breakfast, do the golf, look at the pictures, and then a couple of days later we were heading to Hawaii for 10 days. I was very busy preparing for all this. Al said to me that morning as he always did, “Would you like to come? Why don’t you come?” And I said, “Oh, no, I’ve got a lot to do. It’s only three days. You’ve got your things and I’ll be waiting for you when you come back.” So I was busy running around, sending birthday cards, writing notes, getting addresses, planning something I had to do at church with a friend, and busier than ever. Then I watched the Good Morning, America show and saw the tower on fire and started to make some phone calls to see what was happening out there and is everyone looking. I didn’t have anybody to tell it to so I called church, I called my son, I called friends.
I just didn’t connect. We thought it was a small plane, an accident. The thought of terrorists using an airplane as a bomb was the farthest thing from my mind. Afterwards, I realized that this should not have been a surprise because there were lists, there were terrorists and there were other warnings that something like this could happen, but that day we were all caught unaware.
Al was an engineering consultant and he had an expertise in accelerometers. He was minding his business after having consulted for six years for a company that he had worked for here and they moved out to the West Coast. He was sitting here minding his business, doing a little golf, a little computer work when this company called and asked if he’d help out. They met and talked and they liked each other and he said sure. He did a lot of work at home. He got along well with them. They had phone conferences every Friday. He went out on occasion and this was to be a quick trip. I think they were a little anxious because he was planning our trip and he’d be away for a while, so they thought if you could just come out before your leave, so that we could just have your expertise for that little bit of time, and then when you come back, we can be together longer. Same as I thought. He was really going out to “hold their hands” for a few days. I often wonder and I don’t live my life by this, but if we had some warnings like we have now, if someone had said, don’t go to the malls, don’t do this, don’t do that, if we had some warning, would he have opted to say, “Well, forget this for three days, I’m not going to take a chance.” I don’t know the answer to that, and I don’t think about it all that often.
He was an electrical engineer, very talented, lots to offer. The company came to visit me in March looking for some circuit designs because they had gotten a contract based on his circuit design and didn’t have it. I found it somewhere in our pile and even though they had hired two engineers and they were working hard, they couldn’t figure it out and they missed him very much, as we do we all.
Al was kind and peaceful and humorous and had a great wit. When he traveled, it didn’t matter if he was talking to the parking attendant who parked the car, the hotel manager, the CEO of the company, everybody was treated the same way. And all of those people phoned or wrote to me, every one of them.
I found out it was his plane when I talked to my son Jeff that morning. He works in Boston in a tower and I asked him if he had access to a TV because there’s something going on that doesn’t look right. He called me back and as we were talking people in the background were feeding him information, and he said, “Mom, they’re saying it was a hijacked plane from Boston.” And I said, “Oh, that can’t be.” He said, “When did Dad leave?” And I said, “Oh, hours ago.” And he said, “Mom, it was flight 11, I’m coming home and then he hung up the phone and came home.” I listened a little more to the news, I called my minister, John Lombard, or I think I had someone call him because the line was busy. I called a friend, I called my son Alan in Houston and left a message on his cell phone to tell him he needed to call me because Dad was on flight 11. I couldn’t reach David in Moscow and I e-mailed that Dad was on flight 11. David is the journalist in Moscow for the Boston Globe.
Jeff got home and he and Johanna, we call Honnie, his then girlfriend and now wife, sat here and thought about things they could do and they even talked about going to New York and looking for Dad in case he was wondering around with amnesia. How naive we all were. We all sat in front of the TV and as soon as John Lombard saw the names across the screen and saw what American Airlines was saying and where people could go, and quite frankly I don’t remember any of that, but John and some friends that were here were able to write it down and someone took Jeff and Honnie into the airport where they visited with American Airlines with the FBI and were able to pick up the car. The interesting think about that is hours later all the cars from that area were towed and some not in a good manner. So we often joke about us getting our car sooner because I said make sure you get the car and don’t pay the overnight fee.
Well, as we sit here there are two young girls doing the weeding, I have lawn care, grass care, weed care, plumbers, accountants, all those things that Al did. But I don’t do the fun things I did with him. Al loved just about everything he did. If he knew there was going to be a good year for the stars and we were going to see things, he got a telescope and we’d go out and find a place like Punkatasset Hill where it was quiet at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and look at a certain star or the moon. People would say what did you do yesterday and I would say, “Well, at 4:00 in the morning, I was on Punkatasset Hill with Al.” Well, I’m not going to do anything like that now. It was those spontaneous little things. Al was interested in just about everything and good at a lot of things.
We had a wonderful summer last summer. We were lucky to have our then 5 1/2 year old grandson, named after Al. His name is Alexander Michael Filipov but it’s still Alexander M., and he likes that too. He likes that his name is like his grandpa’s. They did a lot of gardening together. They planted potatoes. And Al did that by taking potatoes from our bin and putting them out. Then he picked them and the picture we have here is of Alex with his grandpa picking potatoes and Grandpa saying, “You know, we’re going to eat these tonight.” And Alex is probably wishing he didn’t have to but he did. That was August just before Alex left on August 13 or 14. Alex lives in Russia and he visits. He was here for a while in the fall, and he’s coming again soon for July.
David, the journalist in Moscow, had to go to Afghanistan and cover the war because he’s based in Russia and that’s closer. At this particular time they asked him to do a story about him and his dad and his feelings, something David rarely does. He rarely talks about himself. But this particular time he did. He said it wasn’t an easy story to write, but it also is a kind of thing that helped because he wasn’t with us all the time.
I was very cognizant that there was enough loss of human life I did not want to see more lives lost in waging an indiscriminate war. I told that to the powers that be. Days after September 11, my two senators, Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry called me, as did Congressman Marty Meehan. They all expressed their condolescences and they all asked what they could do for me at this particular time. I don’t know how I had the clarity of mind to say what I did but I did. And I asked them to please go to Washington and work together and try to fix the problem that we have right here in our country where our agencies are not working properly, they’re not talking to one another, that we had a lot of warnings, we should have paid more attention, that I think this could have been stopped in some way. But let’s at least stop it in the future and let’s not go to war. Enough lives have been lost and you’re not going to help by killing other people who didn’t do anything, just to go look after a bearded man in a cave. They’re never going to get him. There will always be terrorists and Al Qaeda as long as somebody could give the money. They all agreed with me. They said they would do what they can. Senator Kerry said this is a warring administration. The others agreed that was the right way. They thought I was very brave to think that way. Well, I don’t think it was brave. I realized after that when we all went to talk to John Lombard about how our service would be that my family all felt the same way. This is not what Dad would want. In talking with other people of 9/11 and I’ve talked to a lot, I never got the impression that was what any of them wanted. A war on terrorism is not what they saw, not what they could see happening. They didn’t feel that their loved ones dying should represent this war and continuing war and going and getting him and looking for more war. I feel very strongly about that and I have since written a letter to my senators and congressmen telling them how I felt once again and what I felt my family’s beliefs were about all this. I asked Congressmen Meehan to send it on to the Senate Investigation Committee and to the White House and to the other Senators and hopefully he did. I have a copy of a letter from Senator Kerry.
Congressman Meehan has had many gatherings of surviving families and he’s offered many, many things from September on and I have not always been able to attend everything, but I did what I could. He has been a wonderful man to all the families. I believe in his district alone there are 28. However the last meeting I went to on April 11, I believe he had all of Massachusetts there. He had quite a few people. Senator Kennedy has been most helpful in gathering people, having his aides put us in touch with whatever we needed whether it was social security benefits, mental health, he was there and his aides were so helpful. They always knew who you were and remembered that they spoke to you. I think these two men have been exceptional, always have been but more so now.
The 911 Fund that Congress appropriated provided after they put a cap on what the airlines provided you didn’t sue the airlines the way I see it, I’m not sure the status of it but I haven’t met anyone who has received any money. Certainly no one has received $1.8 million which I think is the median that they’re talking about now. No one I know has received any money from that Fund. I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to that, it was never a priority for me. I certainly am never signing anything that says it’s okay what happened, thank you, I’ll take the money.
At the memorial service for Al on September 26, the church was very crowded. Everyone came. There were people that I hadn’t seen in 40 years. There were people he worked with when he first came here. People from companies. One of my sons said, “One of the men said your father had to fire me but I still loved him.” There were so many different companies. One of my son’s college roommates said he had to park far away and he was walking toward the church, someone said to someone else, what’s going on? And they said, “Well, they’re having a service for Al Filipov, and the man said wait for me let me get a jacket and he came.” My son’s friend was in awe. I was in awe. We had had a reception line to receive visitors 10 days before just to let people know we were surviving and for those who needed to see us and it was 3 1/2 hours long. So we thought well, we won’t need to have a reception line here and we were in another line for 3 1/2 hours. It was a great tribute and I wished I could have told Al, all these people came for you. He would have said, “No, they came because of us.”
In remembrance of Al there is a forum that is being set up through the Trinitarian Congregational Church. A lot of people have wanted to do a lot of things. He was on so many committees and such an enormous volunteer in the church so everyone wanted to do something. The deaconate of which he was a member for many, many years had a beautiful tray imprinted with his name, and I’m having a granite bench made so that people could sit there and look at the flowers and trees and maybe remember Al. John Lombard got to talking with a few other people and I said we need to do something living and he felt the same way. He and I came up with this forum and started to think about the way we wanted Al perceived and the way our service was and so we started calling it Peace and Justice. The idea is people should see there are other ways to do things. We don’t have to hate everyone. Perhaps we could learn a little about why people are the way they are, why they have a different religion and hate us, what is it we do wrong. I don’t know if this particular forum and this particular speaker will address that and those issues, but I think at least by having peace and justice, it is a way of saying let’s look at our alternatives, let’s empower as many people as we can to go on and continue good work instead of war. We’ve got someone lined up for this year, we’re funding it and we’re hoping it will continue for a long, long time for as long as people are interested and care. This year’s speaker is Paul Loeb. He’s the author of a book called “Soul of a Citizen”. It’s a powerful book. Just his biography alone tells us that people can make a difference. The forum will be September 14 and 15. Whenever we have this, it will always be the closest date to September 11.
John Lombard will be having a September 11 service with quiet reflective music with a wonderful musician named Tim Janis, and the flowers will be from the Filipov family. I don’t know if we will be there but we’re all going to be together on that day. Where we’ll be I don’t know but there is going to be a nice service for the community. Then we’ll have September 14 and 15 and hopefully it will be attended by a large number of people.
David just wrote an article about how the Russian nuclear weapons are a temptation for the terrorists. There has to be another way, going to Afghanistan, going to Georgia, and seeing the destruction and the no-win situation isn’t pleasant. It’s his job but it isn’t going to fix the problem.
The lack of communication between the various agencies such as the CIA and the FBI and the INS, the immigration service, seems to be the way they’ve been, but I think they can change, and I think this is a perfect opportunity to make those changes. Maybe I won’t see it in my lifetime but start. And, that’s all I’m asking them to do is start to make those changes. Train people in languages, update the computer, have lists that are shared — you should be able to put something in the computer and everybody can read it. Then do it. There is an example of making a difference. If everybody sits on their duff and keeps quiet and says “Well, I’ve got to protect my longevity in this job.” So he’d got the job but the world is in terror, and that’s called making a difference.
The Trinitarian Congregational Church has been a source of comfort and sociability for me and it meant a lot for Al. I don’t think I could ever move from this town. We’ve been members of that church for over 40 years. When we used to think about moving anywhere, and as an engineer you always get offers when you’re young, do you want come here?, do you want to there?, and Al always said, “This is such a good place and we have our wonderful church. If anything ever happened like you lost a job or something, you know they will take care of you.” Well, something awful happened and they took wonderful care of me, and they still are and they still do. They brought food, but they’re caring, they’re loving. I could go down and sit there, just sit in the parlor, just visit with the secretary and feel better. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place. I’m very fortunate. And this town too. People stop me in town and talk to me. I don’t think it’s because it’s oh, this is something weird we’ve got to talk about. I think its because they care. Everyone cares. That’s what I found out — everyone cares. It’s a wonderful sense of community. Even though we have discussions and arguments about how much the taxes should be, it’s a wonderful sense of community. No, I could never have survived without my church.