Former airline flight attendant honors his fallen coworkers
WINDSOR TERRACE — When the hills seemed too steep to climb or a hard rain was pelting his skin, former flight attendant Paul “Paulie” Veneto kept his head down, stared at the nine faces smiling back at him, and powered through the pain.
A composite of photographs of United Airlines Flight 175 flight attendants and crew members — who often worked with Veneto, but ultimately lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001 — were Veneto’s motivation to push an airline beverage cart from Massachusetts to Manhattan, beginning in late August. The cart also displays details about the three other United and American Air- lines flights hijacked on that day of terror.
“These crew members were never recognized as heroes,” Veneto, 62, told The Tablet at the beginning of September when he was en route to his final destination — the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11. “And that’s understandable because of the enormity of that day as the whole world watched those towers come down.”
Veneto, who began working for United Airlines in 1997, previously worked on Flight 175, which flew from Logan International Airport in Boston to Los Angeles International Airport every day. He had been working on that same flight just days before, but he was off duty on 9/11 when the plane crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
“I couldn’t imagine what their family members were going through, and it bothered me every year, more and more, that nobody said to them, ‘Your mother, son, sister was a hero,’” he continued. “The crew kept doing what they had to do in order to protect those (passengers) the best they could, knowing that they weren’t going home to their families.”
Veneto, who continued to serve as a flight attendant for the next decade, made it a top priority to remember his colleagues. He printed Flight 175’s crew members’ pictures on Sept. 16, 2001, and taped them to the exterior of his on-the-go flight bag. “Everywhere I traveled, every flight I worked, everybody had no choice but to see those faces,” Veneto explained.
Veneto suffered from overwhelming grief and survivor’s guilt following the attacks and became addicted to opiates, which almost cost him his life.
Veneto’s path away from addiction began nearly six years ago, ironically on Sept. 11 — the same day he decided that he would pay tribute to his fallen airline industry colleagues.
“This is the least I could do for them since they were the first first responders who fought terrorism 30,000 feet up in the air,” Veneto said of his estimated 220-mile-long journey through wooded areas, small towns, and big cities. “I’m not an elite athlete, but it’s not a big deal for me to push this cart in recognition of what these men and women did that morning.”
Veneto noted that pushing the beverage cart prior to the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 was coincidental. “I couldn’t have done this, mentally and physically, a year ago or even two years ago,” Veneto said. “Believe me, if I could have done it 15 years ago, I would have.”
As he made his way to New York City, Veneto said he was shocked to see the overwhelming support and encouragement from random strangers as they cheered from their porches and shared their own 9/11-related stories.
After 20 years, he also had the opportunity to meet with the family of flight attendant Amy Jarret, one of Veneto’s flying partners, who died that fateful day on board Flight 175. Amy’s parents and two siblings came to Veneto’s send-off at Boston Logan Airport on Aug. 21. Amy’s brother also walked alongside Veneto for two days at the beginning of his weeks-long trek.
“I could’ve never imagined being at this point in my life right now, being able to do this,” Veneto told The Tablet while making an overnight stop near New Haven, Connecticut.
“I know that I’m here for a reason — to honor my friends — which is a gift I could never ever repay.”