By Clinton Griffiths
Anniversary holds fond memories for pilot’s family
It’s been 10 years, but Sept. 11, 2001, still reigns as the longest day of Jim Ogonowski’s life—and it all started with a phone call.
"Jim...it’s John’s airplane." Those are the words Jim heard his sister-in-law say that day. Jim’s brother, John Ogonowski, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center towers in New York City on that now hallowed day.
While flying was his first love, farming put John’s soul at peace. He owned 150 acres in his hometown of Dracut, Mass., just down the road from where his great-grandmother farmed in 1904 after emigrating from Poland.
"We used to joke, did you see the farmer dressed up like an airline pilot or were you looking at the airline pilot who was dressed up like a farmer?" laughs Jim, remembering his brother’s split personality. "To this day, if I am watching TV and there’s something agricultural coming on, I will reach for the phone to call him."
In a family of three boys and two girls, sister Carol Ogonowski says she can still see John sprinting through the New England fields, fishing by the pond or giving orders to his younger siblings during harvest.
"Life is very easy when you don’t put 9/11 in your present thoughts. Bringing it forward always brings emotion with it," Carol says.
She, like so many others, prefers to remember John as he was: a big, warm, caring New Englander who worked as hard on the ground as he did in the air. John bought his farm in the 1990s and ran a haying operation on fields outlined in grey stone walls.
"If John came up to you and said, ‘Can you help me for five minutes?’ you knew you had a 12-hour day ahead of you," Jim remembers.
|For years, John Ogonowski had intended to restore this Farmall tractor. He never got around to it, so a friend recently finished the job in John's memory.
The heart of a farmer. Just a couple of years before his death, John started a program to help Cambodian refugees learn to grow food from their homeland in the Massachusetts climate.
"I feel like John is still around, and every time I come to the farm, I think about John," says Rechat Pourn, one of the first Cambodians that John helped to start farming.
Now Jim serves as an adviser to the Cambodian refugees and tills the soil in John’s place. He also runs the rest of the family’s farm operations now that he’s retired from flying aerial refueling tankers for the Air National Guard. It’s a legacy he’s proud to continue for a brother who gave his family and his country the ultimate gift.
"He flew over the farm all the time," Jim says. "Back then, if he asked me to do something like mow hay, he could check on me from up above. He’s still doing that."
Tune In to 'AgDay'
On Sept. 9, "AgDay" will devote the entire 30-minute show to remembering John Ogonowski and his love for farming and flying. Visit www.AgDay.com for a list of stations airing "AgDay" and for showtimes.