The morning after Queen Elizabeth II died, I called a teacher to coordinate an upcoming 9:57 Veteran visit to her classroom. During our initial greetings, I couldn’t help but think of the Queen as I heard a distinctly British voice. I respectfully confirmed that she hailed from the United Kingdom.

I offered my heartfelt condolences on the passing of a leader who meant so much to so many. I had marveled the night before how Queen Elizabeth had conducted official duties, receiving her fifteenth Prime Minister, less than seventy-two hours prior to her death. Her first was Winston Churchill. Honestly, I was surprised by the depth of my emotion, but after some thought - it made sense. Even though I take great pride in our country’s history and unique formation, a revolution that split us asunder from royal rule, I realize, as President Kennedy said, such heritage is ancient. The U.S. relationship with Great Britain is as two best friends who’ve persevered in battle time and time again.

The teacher reminded me of an event that occurred in London days after 9/11. The Queen breached 600 years of protocol and ordered the Star Spangled Banner played at Buckingham Palace, no small gesture considering our country’s origin. On top of that, our National Anthem was composed during a night of battle amidst the second American/British conflict, the War of 1812. Two hundred years later, our Nation’s friendship with Great Britain (as well as Germany and Japan) stands as global testimony to the power of reconciliation and the appeal of human freedom.

But that's not what immediately came to my mind that morning. I replied, perhaps incongruently to the conversation - “Prince Henry is an Apache Pilot.” As we discussed the Queen, my mind jumped back to our purpose and the fact that her Grandson was a veteran of the 9/11 wars.

I once asked a British Apache Pilot, with an unintended irreverence perhaps, “Prince Harry, is he a good dude?”

“He’s awesome,” was the response.

In Attack Helicopter parlance, that means he’s the real deal, a Gun Pilot just like you and me, and tactically credible.

Prince Harry flew an AH-64D Apache Longbow in combat in 2012 as a Co-Pilot-Gunner and became a Pilot-in-Command the next year. Family lineage is of no value in the metal and gravity equation that empowers a helicopter pilot to hover above an enemy. But lineage does crease another fold to the human story. When I went to war, when my father went to war - our grandmothers had no say in the matter. But, the Queen, advised by her Ministers, had immense influence in the decision to send Harry to a war triggered by 9/11.

The Queen may have had two sons and two grandsons who were military pilots, (Prince William was both a military and civilian medevac helicopter pilot), but most importantly she had a steadfast strength she imparted to her family and nation for seventy years. From her earliest years as a truck driver volunteer in World War II to her last ones as head of state, she embodied concepts of service that are worthy of admiration and respect. I cannot say I fully understand or embrace the concept of “nobility” as a noun, but I unabashedly embrace this Queen, her family’s dignity and actions, and the adjective. I believe the hearts of all are struck by their noble themes.

Before her reign, when Prince Elizabeth was a young woman and her island nation was under existential Nazi threat, Prime Minister Churchill rallied his countrymen for the struggle. He once exhorted Parliament and his people, that, in the unlikely event that their island was “subjugated and starving,” the struggle would continue, “until in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue, and the liberation of the Old.”

When I heard those words in the 2017 movie Darkest Hour, I had a visceral reaction. This declaration offered me an emotional kinship I had never felt with the people of the British Isles. Until that moment, I had known, but had never felt in such personal terms, how my father was a part of the defense of their land. I went to the theater again and shared the movie with my daughter, even though she was only eleven, so she could grasp the importance of what her Grandfather had done. She never knew the man whose initials, REH, they share. He died twenty-six years before her birth.

Winston Churchill’s initial entreaties to President Roosevelt for help are on display in the movie, a calm call disguising the very dangerous and real violence lurking just across the English Channel. On the other side of the Atlantic, FDR demurs. Churchill does not despair, he persists. Their relationship, affecting the fate of the free world, was a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. Then, the President sent his most trusted advisor and closest confidant, Harry Hopkins, to London to size things up and make a recommendation.

In his 2020 book, The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson details how Mr. Hopkins finally relates his assessment to Churchill: “‘I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return…’ Hopkins dropped his voice to near a whisper and recited a passage from the Bible’s Book of Ruth: ‘Whither thou goest, I will go; and where though lodgest, I will lodge: thy people will be my people, and thy God my God.’

Then, softly, he added: ‘Even to the end.’ This was his own addition, and with it a wave of gratitude and relief seemed to engulf the room. Churchill wept.”

And the rest, of course, is history. In Europe, our material assistance came first. After a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, then came our sons, our daughters (helping in the same ways the future Queen did), our prayers, and our grief. Our blood, sweat, and tears mixed with theirs. Somewhere in all that, to make the continent’s liberation complete, the new world sent my Dad, Private Rayford E Hamilton of the Tenth Mountain Division. As he and his infantry comrades battled through the Italian Apennines, a mortar forced him into an old world hospital bed for the remainder of the saga. He made a full recovery and was discharged in 1946.

Fifty-five years later, as the notes of the Star Spangled Banner resounded through the London air, Queen Elizabeth II expressed her people’s solidarity with us during our darkest hour, after an unimaginable, first-ever attack on this continent. This show of unity was no mere striking of the band and parading of Soldiers; months later my friends and I were in Afghanistan fighting alongside British forces. Years later, the Queen would send her grandson to risk his life for the security of the new and old world alike, risking her own flesh and blood for our freedom, just as my very Dad and millions of Allies were dispatched for her and all of Europe, when she was a teenager, roughly my daughter's age.

This past Sunday, on the twenty-first anniversary of 9/11, I texted a friend, thanking him for his generous support of The 9:57 Project. He specifically mentioned to me during a coordination meeting last year how the playing of our anthem by the Queen was particularly moving to him, so I wanted to relate how the teacher this week had proudly presented the same memory. For some reason, in that moment, I realized something -

My daughter’s middle name. Her mother and I had chosen it because it was a family name, and beautiful. No other reason.

But now I realized, it’s not only a beautiful name, it’s quite Majestic.


Cover image: Princess Elizabeth, pictured in her ATS uniform, April 1945. Image from the Imperial War Museum collection, TR 2832, retrieved from the National World War II Museum.