For Brad Burlingame, the president and chief executive officer of the West Hollywood Marketing & Visitors Bureau, Sept. 11 is especially painful. His brother was a pilot on one of the hijacked flights.
Charles Frank Burlingame III was flying the American Airlines Flight 77 headed to Los Angeles from Virginia when five terrorists hijacked the plane and flew it into the Pentagon.
"He was a super guy, like some classic character, an Annapolis [United States Navy] grad, a husband and a father, and my oldest brother—someone I admired very profoundly," said Burlingame, who has been head of the Weho Marketing and Visitors Bureau for the past 14 years.
The flight data recorder indicates Charles attempted for nearly five minutes to fight off the terrorists who had stormed his cockpit, before the fatal crash, Burlingame said. "He was heroic that day and his murderers have been sought after for a long time," he told Patch in May when he heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed.
On that fateful day in 2001, Burlingame awoke early and was glued to his TV, watching the coverage. He knew his brother was flying from Washington to Los Angeles that day, so he was especially concerned. Once the second plane hit the World Trade Center, he left a message on his brother's cellphone.
Burlingame continued watching, feeling worse and worse. At around 6:45 a.m., he said he had an especially bad feeling. Burlingame would later learn that Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon just minutes before that. And at 7:30 a.m., he got the call. His brother was dead.
“You don’t believe it. It’s just a nightmare. You go into a spin emotionally and psychologically. Everything becomes surreal,” he said. “On that day, it was compounded by the fact you’re looking at all these horrific images."
Angels game planned
Had those Sept. 11 flights never been hijacked, Charles would have been in Los Angeles to celebrate his birthday. He would have turned 52 on Sept. 12, 2001.
The oldest of four siblings, the family called him “Chic” (pronounced “chick”). The two had what Burlingame calls the “quintessential big brother-little brother relationship.”
They were planning on celebrating Chic's birthday at an Angels baseball game in Anaheim. Ever since, Burlingame attends an Angels game on Sept. 11, or as close to that date as possible, to honor his brother and their relationship.
A military family, the Burlingames moved around a lot, but settled in Anaheim after their father retired from the Air Force. From an early age, Chic said he wanted to be a pilot. “He was always fascinated with flying,” Burlingame recalled. “One time, he built an airplane out of scrap paper in the garage.”
After graduating from Anaheim High School, Chic received a presidential appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. From there, he went on to flight school, graduating with honors from its “Top Gun” school. Chic served as a Navy fighter pilot until 1979, but remained in the Naval Reserves until 1996, when he retired at age 46 with the rank of captain.
When he left active duty, Chic started flying planes for American Airlines. The training and discipline the Navy gives its pilots makes them especially attractive to commercial airlines, Burlingame said.
Chic loved his job, considering it an honor to be able to pilot planes. “He loved flying so much, he never said he had to go to work tomorrow,” Burlingame said. “He said, ‘I’m flying tomorrow.’ ”
American Airlines called him “Rocket Man,” because his flights always arrived early. “Even if they left the gate late, he got them there early,” Burlingame said.
10 years later
Chic is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He was initially deemed ineligible for burial there because of his status as a reservist who died younger than age 60. But Burlingame and brother Mark campaigned to get that policy changed, thus allowing Chic to be buried where he had always said he wanted to be buried.
None of Chic’s remains were ever found—the inferno at the Pentagon burned intensely, as it did at the World Trade Center in New York. However, they did recover two items of Chic’s: a portion of his passport, which he kept in his crew kit, and the prayer card from their mother’s funeral held 10 months earlier.
“They didn’t find his wedding band or anything else, except this laminated prayer card,” Burlingame said. “It’s singed around the edges, but on the back of the card is a poem that said, ‘I did not die.’ I don’t know how spiritual you are, but we felt this was somehow Mom miraculously saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got him.’ ”
That prayer card will be on display in Beverly Hills as part of the unveiling of its 9/11 Memorial Garden on Sunday at 4 p.m. After that, the family is donating the prayer card to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum scheduled to open in New York next year.