Acting Gov. Jane Swift awarded the first three Madeline Amy Sweeney Awards for Civilian Bravery to the families of crew members from American Airlines Flight 11 at Faneuil Hall yesterday in a private ceremony for friends, family and co-workers of the honorees.
Swift said she plans to use this award to honor “ordinary civilians” from Massachusetts annually on Sept. 11 and hopes it will help “remind ourselves of the greatness of the human spirit.”
Madeline Amy Sweeney, a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11 and the inspiration for the award, called Flight Service Manager Michael Woodward, who spoke at the award ceremony, during the hijacking to relay details of the events.
According to Woodward, Sweeney’s “incredible details” proved to be “instrumental in the authorities’ understanding who was responsible.”
Swift said Sweeney “illustrates the very best of human nature,” and on Sept. 11 her actions were “invaluable to law enforcement.”
Sweeney’s husband, Michael, an environmental police officer who accepted the award on her behalf, said his wife is “truly an American hero.”
Swift also honored American Airlines Flight 11 Capt. John Ogonowski, whose reports to air traffic control helped those on the ground understand the nature of the attack.
Ogonowski’s wife, an American Airlines flight attendant, accepted the award along with their daughters on her husband’s behalf.
“He took control of the plane like it was the most serious responsibility of his life,” she said.
Kathy Ong, sister of American Airlines Flight 11 attendant Betty Ong, remarked on her sister’s bravery as well. Betty Ong was also awarded yesterday.
Kathy Ong, who recently listened to the tape of her sister and Sweeney’s phone call, said her sister’s “calm” and “composed” description of the events and details of the hijackers helped with subsequent law enforcement as well.
Swift said she intends for this award to “keep memories alive” and to provide “living examples for us and our children.”
Britt Compton, a friend of Sweeney, said the award “will be wonderful for their children when they are old enough to understand what happened.”
Also in attendance yesterday were Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly.
The Logan International Airport chaplain, Rev. Richard Uftring, gave the opening remarks and said a short prayer prior to Swift’s speech.
Students from the Acton-Boxborough Regional High School Concert Choir provided music throughout the program and closed with a rendition of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”