KWAME HOLMAN: When American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon, taking the lives of all on board, it carried eight members of a National Geographic Society field trip, including students and teachers from Washington, D.C. Leading the trip were Geographic Society staffers Ann Judge, 49, and Joe Ferguson, 39. Lanny Proffer worked with them.
LANNY PROFFER: When I walked in the building and there was Joe's and Ann's photographs in Explorers' Hall, then there was this sudden kind of tightening in my stomach, I said, "oh, my God, how did this happen?"
KWAME HOLMAN: The distinctive cover of the 113-year-old National Geographic Society magazine is recognized around the world. Ann Judge headed the in-house travel department that sent out writers and photographers to bring to life for readers the planet's most remote places. Director of photography Kent Kobersteen:
KENT KOBERSTEEN: She was good-humored and short and feisty and efficient, and our photographers come in with some pretty bizarre travel requests and requirements sometimes, and nothing was too difficult for Ann.
KWAME HOLMAN: For 14 years, Joe Ferguson worked on restoring the study of Geography to a prominent place in the nation's classrooms. Terry Garcia was Ferguson's boss.
TERRY GARCIA: We were disturbed to find at the time that geographic literacy in this country was so shockingly low, and we began a program which was designed to provide the tools that teachers and instructors need in order to train the next generation of leaders.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lanny Proffer says Joe Ferguson approached the mission with dedication and ingenuity.
LANNY PROFFER: He was one of those people where you'd say... Listen to what he'd say, and you'd say, "God, why didn't I think of that? What a neat idea. Let's do that." And I really don't know what we're going to do without him.
KWAME HOLMAN: The trip Ferguson and Judge were to lead offered teachers and students the chance to experience the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary off Santa Barbara, California.
LANNY PROFFER: He literally invented the kind of training that we offered to teachers. There are thousands, literally thousands of teachers around this country that - for whom Joe was the Society.
KWAME HOLMAN: In a tough neighborhood in Southeast Washington, D.C., was one of those teachers. In the late 1980's, 58-year-old James Debeuneure switched careers and began teaching at Ketchum Elementary School. Colleagues say "Mr. Deb," as he was known, always looked for new ways to engage his fifth graders. The Geographic Society's program was a natural.
( Singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" )
PEOPLE SINGING: Glory, glory hallelujah...
KWAME HOLMAN: A memorial service for Debeuneure was held Saturday. Gwendolyn Faulkner worked in the geography program at another school and saw the group off at Dulles Airport. She described Debeuneure's arrival at the gate with Rodney Dickens, the 11-year-old Ketchum Elementary student chosen to accompany him.
GWENDOLYN FAULKNER: You would not believe the excitement. In fact, James was so anxious that he didn't bother to stop at the main terminal to check in. He came directly to the gate, luggage and all. I will never forget James and Rodney walking in with their National Geographic caps on as if to say, "we're on official business here." ( Laughter )
KWAME HOLMAN: Last year Debeuneure took Rodney under his wing. An honor student who lived with his mother, the fifth grader was supported by a large extended family that included his father, Rodney, Sr., and stepmother, Leathia who live nearby. Leathia works with us at the NewsHour.
RODNEY HEAITCOATCH: He's very shy, but he's very smart, and he listens a lot. A lot of times Washington kids or inner city kids don't get to go places, but we have very intelligent young kids out there who are going to be our next lawyers, and our next doctors, and maybe even a president. You never know. And he was on that path.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rodney Senior's pride in his talented son is tempered by regret over the things they didn't do together.
RODNEY HEAITCOATCH: I'm just telling all the fathers out there, please spend time with your child. Don't let a tragedy just snatch it up from under you. Spend that time, because your job is going to be there. You have bosses, and you have to have food on the table, but make time, because you can't go back and do it.
KWAME HOLMAN: James Debeuneure raised his daughter, Jalin, after her mother died in 1985. At the memorial service Jalin read a letter to her father.
JALIN DEBEUNEURE: Dear Dad, I know that God is good. I know that He is go because he hired you on Tuesday for a job that was only fit for a special encouraged individual. God was looking for a leader to teach his children in heaven. On one hand, I'm upset that you left me; but on the other hand, I'm proud that you didn't refuse this glorious offer. You were a teacher not only in the classroom, but wherever you felt the need for something to be taught. You taught me to respect myself as well as others. I remember the times when you would say, "baby girl, go put a coat on over those too tight clothes..." (Laughter) "...Or too short clothes." To this day, part of me still believes that you're going to walk through our front door at home, and say, "Jalin, I'm home," and then I jump back to reality and realize that this is not a movie. This is real life and my daddy is gone.
KWAME HOLMAN: All of the victims of the Pentagon attack will be memorialized at a special ceremony later this month.