Written by reader carp:
In many regards, Mark Bingham is the finest person to be affiliated with the University of California and, because of this, Mark is the consummate founding member of your California Golden Blogs Hall of Fame.
Mark was born in Phoenix, AZ, but graduated from Los Gatos High before attending Berkeley. While he was at Cal, Mark was President of the Chi Psi fraternity and, at 6’4" and 225 lbs, was a star flanker on Cal’s 1991 and 1993 national championship rugby teams. Prior to graduating in 1993, Mark impressively tackled both the Bucky Badger (Wisconsin’s mascot) and the Furd’s tree, the latter of which was a monster smash during the ’92 Big Game.
Mark continued to play amateur rugby for the San Francisco Fog, where he was known as "Bear Trap," and became CEO of his own public relations firm the Bingham Group. Mark lived in Cole Valley, and had offices in San Francisco and Manhattan. Throughout his adult life, Mark was an advocate for gay rights. Upon learning that his club had been accepted into the Northern California Rugby Union, Mark wrote the following e-mail:
Wow! What an inspiring email. This is a huge step forward for gay rugby.
When I started playing rugby at the age of 16, I always thought that my interest in other guys would be an anathema — completely repulsive to the guys on my team — and to the people I was knocking the shit out of on the other team. I loved the game, but KNEW I would need to keep my sexuality a secret forever. I feared total rejection.
As we worked and sweated and ran and talked together this year, I finally felt accepted as a gay man and a rugby player. My two irreconcilable worlds came together.
Now we've been accepted into the union and the road is going to get harder. We need to work harder. We need to get better. We have the chance to be role models for other gay folks who wanted to play sports, but never felt good enough or strong enough. More importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league that we are as good as they are. Good rugby players. Good partiers. Good sports. Good men.
Gay men weren't always wallflowers waiting on the sideline. We have the opportunity to let these other athletes know that gay men were around all along — on their little league teams, in their classes, being their friends.
This is a great opportunity to change a lot of people's minds, and to reach a group that might never have had to know or hear about gay people.
Let's go make some new friends…and win a few games.
Congratulations, my brothers in rugby.
A few weeks later, at the last possible minute, Mark boarded United Flight 93 in Newark, NJ en route to San Francisco. Forty minutes after departure, the plane had been taken over by terrorists and the plane had been redirected towards Washington, D.C. Upon learning this, it is known that Mark, from row 25, tried to reach his mother Alice Hoglan (a retired flight attendant) but was only able to reach her voice mail at 9:37 AM. In his message, Mark explained that 3 men had overtaken the plane and had a bomb. Alice returned his call, but got Mark’s message. In her message, she instructed Mark to reclaim the aircraft after it became apparent that it was a suicide mission. It would not have been the first time Mark had protected others. Paul Holm, Mark’s partner for 6 years, said Mark had twice successfully protected Holm from attempted muggings, one of which was at gunpoint. Friends also recall that Mark once crossed several lanes of traffic to remove a distressed young girl from oncoming cars.
Mark is believed to be one of several passengers who attempted to storm the cockpit to prevent hundreds or thousands of people from being killed. What is known is that he is a true American hero. "The Revolt" as described by Flight 93’s Wikipedia page:
The revolt on Flight 93 began at 09:57. Passengers used the service cart and fire extinguishers in attempts to smash through the cockpit door. The hijackers in the cockpit became aware of the revolt at 09:57:55, exclaiming, "Is there something? A fight?" Edward Felt dialed 9-1-1 from his cell phone from the lavatory of the aircraft seeking information. His call was answered by dispatcher John Shaw, and Felt was able to tell him about the hijacking before the call was disconnected. There were reports of Felt hearing an explosion and seeing smoke coming into the lavatory from under the door. These reports were reported to be false in other sources. Lyles called her husband once more from a cell phone and told him the passengers were forcing their way into the cockpit. Jarrah began to violently roll the airplane left and right to knock the passengers off balance. He told another hijacker in the cockpit at 9:58:57, "They want to get in here. Hold, hold from the inside. Hold from the inside. Hold." Jarrah changed tactics at 9:59:52 and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to disrupt the assault.
The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of crashing, screaming, and the shattering of glass. Jarrah stabilized the plane at 10:00:03. Five seconds later, he asked, "Is that it? Shall we finish it off?" Another hijacker responded, "No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off." Jarrah once again pitched the airplane up and down. A passenger in the background cried, "In the cockpit. If we don't, we'll die" at 10:00:25. Sixteen seconds later, another passenger yelled, "Roll it!" Jarrah ceased the violent maneuvers at 10:01:00 and recited the takbir several times. He then asked another hijacker, "Is that it? I mean, shall we put it down?" The other hijacker responded, "Yes, put it in it, and pull it down." Nevertheless, the passengers continued their assault and at 10:02:23, a hijacker said, "Pull it down! Pull it down!" The airplane descended with the yoke turned hard to the right. The airplane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting the takbir. Amidst the sounds of the passenger counterattack, the aircraft plowed into an empty field in Stonycreek, Pennsylvania, about 20 minutes' flying time from Washington, D.C. The last entry on the voice recorder was made at 10:03:09. The last piece of flight data was recorded at 10:03:10. There is some controversy between some of the family members of the passengers and the investigative officials as to whether the passengers managed to breach the cockpit. The 9/11 Commission Report asserts that "the hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them". Others claim that there is no doubt the passengers breached the cockpit.
Out of respect for a hero I did not know, I leave you with excerpts from others:
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., delivered a eulogy on Saturday to honor Mark Bingham, one of the passengers on hijacked Flight 93 who may have helped prevent the plane from hitting a Washington, D.C., target.
Speaking before a crowd of 500 people who gathered at the University of California at Berkeley for the memorial service, McCain praised Bingham's heroic sacrifice that may have saved many lives.
"It is now believed that the terrorists on Flight 93 intended to crash the airplane into the United States Capitol where I work, the great house of democracy where I was that day," the senator said. "It is very possible that I would have been in the building, with a great many other people.
"I may very well owe my life to Mark and the others who summoned the enormous courage and love necessary to deny those depraved, hateful men their terrible triumph. Such a debt you incur for life."
Sen. McCain flew from Washington to honor Bingham, a former star rugby player for Berkeley who was also an openly gay supporter of McCain's presidential campaign last year.
"I know he (Bingham) was a good son and friend, a good rugby player, a good American and an extraordinary human being," the senator said. "He supported me, and his support now ranks among the greatest honors of my life. I wish I had known before Sept. 11 just how great an honor his trust in me was. I wish I could have thanked him for it more profusely than time and circumstances allowed."
Let me tell you about one other act of defiance, this one coming up on its 10-year anniversary. As Cal was getting spanked in the 1992 Big Game at Memorial, Stanford fans, elated over their 5-0-1 stretch in the once-balanced rivalry, actually showed a pulse and began a taunting chant. The Tree ventured closer and closer to the Cal student section, gyrating in its insipid outfit, until a Cal rugby player named Mark Bingham could stand it no longer. Bingham jumped from the stands, made a beeline for the Plant from Purgatory and chopped its sorry ass to the ground, reminding everyone in attendance that there are some things that simply can't be tolerated. And while I would never advocate such a renegade display of violence, I sincerely hope that if such a gesture ever were to take place again, the culprit would honor his predecessor by pointing a finger to the sky.
That's because 14 months ago Bingham was one of the Flight 93 passengers who fought back against the Sept. 11 terrorists and made the ultimate sacrifice. And though I'm in no way comparing the magnitude of events and circumstances, I will say this: That is a California Golden Bear.
I met Mark my first week at Cal - welcome week, the week before classes.It was at Chi Psi, the place where Cal really welcomed me, the place I would find myself spending a great deal of my time at during my four years there. I remember formals and crashing in Mark and Tony's room, I remember walking the plank in Mark and Tony's room at the drink-a-room. I remember Mark and Tony waking Steph and I up in the middle of the night in our dorms when Pi Kap was on fire behind Chi Psi and 4 of us cramming in the smallest twin beds you've ever seen. I remember Mark carrying me home one night when I wasn't able to take myself home. I remember Luaus, I remember many many nights of talking and drinking and some just talking.
Then later I remember his 30th birthday party. He spent most of the night not focused on HIS day but on everyone else. Telling us how much he loved us, telling his fondest memories of each of us. I remember him dressed up as Brandy Chastain in the most ridiculous looking bra on Halloween. I remember him pouring Jaeger down everyone's throats at my white trash going away party and finding the bottles on the kitchen door jam the next morning and just smiling because that was Mark.I remember numerous bear hugs, words of affection, genuine love, a fierce loyalty, a man who truly loved life and would defend anything that was important to him. I remember one of the most incredible people I have ever know. I love Mark and he will always be a part of me. I hate that he is gone, but we all know that he went a hero, loyal and loving to the end.
Goodbye Mark. I love you. Go Bears!
In 1991 and 1993 he helped the University of California earn national titles in rugby. Jack Clark, the coach of the rugby team, said "He marched to his own beat. This guy was anything but a follower. I don't know if we'll ever know what happened in that airplane, but it would not surprise me that Mark would resist."
If Bingham was part of the struggle with the hijackers aboard Flight 93, it wouldn't surprise his former rugby coach, Jack Clark. "Mark was very brave," Clark said. "He would have tried to look after others and provide some resistance." Bingham, a formidable 6-foot-5 starter for the Bear ruggers, had recently attended a 10-year reunion of the 1991 championship team, Clark said. "He was a fine guy, his own man, something of a free spirit and real bright," Clark said. "He was in the prime of his life."
In April 2001 the '91 squad held a 10-year reunion that began with a reception outside the rugby field house and ended two days later with a pub crawl through San Francisco. Over the course of the weekend Mark Bingham, a flanker on that team, informed some of his old teammates that he was gay. Bingham had worried that the revelation would jeopardize his standing with his old friends, but most reacted as though he had said, "I hope you don't mind that I drive a Pinto."
"Mark was a member of the brotherhood," Clark says. "It's a lifetime membership, and he and his teammates sacrificed so much together that nothing could ever diminish that."
Well, almost nothing. The coach winces at the mention of Bingham's arrest at the 1992 Cal-Stanford football game for leaping out of the stands and laying a monster hit on the Cardinal's mascot, the Tree. But Bingham, for the most part, lived up to Clark's lofty standards once he left the program. More than once he fended off assailants on the streets of San Francisco, including a scary incident in which he wrested a gun from a would-be mugger. Friends also tell of Bingham's crossing several lanes of traffic to scoop a young girl out of harm's way.
Last Sept. 11 Bingham participated in a shared sacrifice that made the rigors of rugby seem trivial. After boarding United Airlines Flight 93 in Newark, he kept his cool when the plane was hijacked by terrorists, and he is believed to have joined other passengers in preventing their captors from striking a target in Washington, D.C. No one knows exactly what happened in the moments before the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone on board. Bingham's mother, Alice Hoglan, who along with other victims' relatives recently listened to the cockpit recording, is certain that her son had bravely taken one for the team. "We heard enough to convince us that there were some true heroes on board, and the terrorists were frightened," Hoglan says, choking up. "There was an amazing assemblage of take-charge, resourceful people used to acting decisively and as a team, and we heard them urging each other on. It was powerful, fierce and awesome.
"Mark lived vividly and unapologetically, and he had his share of fun," says Hoglan, "but he was gentlemanly and loyal to a fault, and he was a team player who knew how to motivate and inspire people. I'm really grateful to Jack Clark for at least attempting to whip my son into shape. Playing rugby at Cal was a rich and rewarding experience for Mark, and it definitely helped shape the values he carried with him into adulthood."As Clark, sitting in his Cal office, contemplates Sept. 11's unfathomable horror, his voice trails off. It has been a trying year for Golden Bears rugby, and not just because of Bingham's death. In December popular senior scrumhalf Dominic Cooke smashed his car into a tree and was paralyzed from the waist down. The coach presides over his empire with a heavy heart. The titles bleed into one another, and he keeps turning boys into men, but to his dismay, everything else is beyond his control. Mark Bingham was our brother, and we miss him," he says, his booming voice reduced to a whisper. "He left his mark, and it will never be erased."
McCain quoted the Gospel of John—“Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends”— adding, “The only way I can thank Mark is to try to be as good an American as he was.”
McCain’s remarks were much appreciated by the audience, and he got a long round of applause. But not a standing ovation. That was reserved for the final speaker, Mark’s mom, who got two. The first came when McCain introduced her: Everyone rose as one to thank her for producing and nourishing such a wonderful son. The second came when she sat down again, after she said, “God bless you for coming here, God bless Mark Bingham, and God bless America.”
Thank you, carp. And thank you, Mark Bingham, for representing all that is good about Cal and America. GO BEARS!