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Let's roll

"Let's roll" is a catchphrase that has been used extensively as a term to move and start an activity, attack, mission or project. For a period of time after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the phrase to some in the United States came to symbolize heroism, self sacrifice and initiative in a tough situation.

Pre-September 11, 2001 usage

The phrase may have its origins as early as 1908 in the cadence song now called "The Army Goes Rolling Along", which likely extended into tank usage. "The Roads Must Roll", a science fiction story written in 1940 by Robert A. Heinlein, mentions a re-worded version of "The Roll of the Caissons" called "Road Songs of the Transport Cadets." The protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's Across the River and into the Trees, Colonel Dick Cantwell, based on World War II commander Charles "Buck" Lanham, uses the phrase to his driver. He knows he is facing imminent death, but tries to maintain decency, grace, and a sense of humor. The verb "roll" has also been used in both the film and recording industry to signal the beginning of a film or audio recording." Let's roll" was in common use on 1950s and 1960s police television shows such as Adam-12 and (the original) Dragnet. It was also used at the end of roll call at the beginning of Hill Street Blues episodes. It has appeared, among other places, in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the 1987 movie Matewan, where it was used by Baldwin-Felts agents just before a violent attack on striking coal miners. The term was also in widespread use in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and early 1990s, featuring in many low-budget TV productions and plays throughout the country.

Flight 93

Todd Beamer, a passenger on the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, tried to place a credit card call through a phone located on the back of a plane seat but was routed to a customer-service representative instead, who passed him on to supervisor Lisa Jefferson. Beamer reported that one passenger was killed and, later, that a flight attendant had told him the pilot and co-pilot had been forced from the cockpit and may have been wounded. He was also on the phone when the plane made its turn in a southeasterly direction, a move that had him briefly panicking. Later, he told the operator that some of the plane's passengers were planning to "jump on" the hijackers. According to Jefferson, Beamer's last audible words were "Are you guys ready? Let's roll. There is widespread speculation that Beamer was referring to a wheeled food cart he and the other passengers intended to use to break open the cockpit door and attack the hijackers when he uttered these last words. This term would later become the war cry for those fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Cultural impact

In November 2001, Neil Young released a song about Beamer and Flight 93 called "Let's Roll." The song was later released on his album Are You Passionate?.

The catchphrase became especially known and popular after being used by President George W. Bush in a speech to AmeriCorps volunteers and during his 2002 State of the Union Address. Even though the phrase was in common use long before September 11, profiteers soon tried to lay claim to it as a trademark. The Todd M. Beamer Foundation was eventually granted a trademark for uses of the phrase relating to "pre-recorded compact discs, audio tapes, digital audio tapes, and phonograph records featuring music."

In the 2002 college football season, the Florida State Seminoles used "Let's Roll" as their official team slogan. After an initial uproar against the team by people who considered its usage in bad taste, the Todd M. Beamer Foundation officially licensed the trademark to the team.

Bobby Labonte drove a 9/11 tribute car with the words "Let's Roll" on the hood of his stock car.

In August 2002, hard rock band LA Guns released "Ok, Let's Roll" in their album Waking the Dead. It, too, was a song about Beamer and Flight 93.

Country music duo The Bellamy Brothers recorded a song called "Let's Roll, America" on their 2002 album Redneck Girls Forever.

In September 2002, dc Talk reunited to record and release "Let's Roll," a single about the September 11, 2001, attacks.

In early 2002, United States Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper ordered that one airplane in each USAF squadron and all USAF demonstration planes would bear an image of an eagle on an American flag with the words "Let's Roll" and "Spirit of 9-11," to remain until the first anniversary of the attack. It was also used by Lisa Beamer, widow of Todd, in a 2003 book titled Let's Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage (ISBN 0-8423-7418-3). In November 2003, Montreal rock band The Stills released a 9/11-inspired song called "Let's Roll" on their debut album Logic Will Break Your Heart. George W. Bush's speech is sampled by Jonny L in the tune, "Let's Roll."

The phrase was also used in an episode of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm ("The Survivor", season 4, episode 9). The show's main character, Larry David, says the phrase inadvertently to his rabbi once he and his wife are ready to go out and renew their vows, who then becomes offended because of a relative of his died on September 11, 2001 ("You knew my brother-in-law died on September 11th, how dare you say something like that?!"). Larry takes issue with this, as his rabbi's relative was hit by a bike messenger ("Well, with all due respect, he died in uptown on 57th Street"), in an incident completely unrelated to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In 2004, Melissa Etheridge used the phrase "let's roll" as the conclusion to her song "Tuesday Morning" written in honor of Mark Bingham, one of the Flight 93 passengers who fought back alongside Beamer.


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