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Retired flight attendant pushing beverage cart from Dulles to Pentagon to honor 9/11 victims

Sept. 09, 2022
7 min read
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As he pushed an airline beverage cart 240 miles, from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to the site of the 2001 World Trade Center collapse in New York City, Paul Veneto thought it was just going to be a one-time tribute to mark a most somber anniversary.

But something happened last September. “As I kept going,” he said, “people started coming out ... we started realizing something different was going on here.”

That on-foot trek — which Veneto embarked on as a way to remember his former United Airlines colleagues who died on Sept. 11, 2001 — brought firetrucks, fans and the family members of victims to the street, lining his route to honor the memories of thousands of people who were killed in the plane crashes in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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“We couldn’t believe what we were witnessing,” Veneto said. “It was a human connection on the street.”

What started as a uniquely personal journey to memorialize those whom he calls the "first, first responders” of the terrorist attacks became a movement of sorts; this movement inspired Veneto to bring his literal push for continued awareness to the second site affected on that terrible day 21 years ago.

Paul Veneto during Paulie's Push 2021. PAULIE'S PUSH

Inspiration for a 2nd push

Even as Veneto crossed multiple states and battled two hurricanes during his inaugural push of a beverage cart in 2021, nothing deterred him. After all, such a tribute was nearly two decades in the making.

Veneto was a flight attendant for 25 years and worked for United Airlines between 1997 and 2011. As such, he knew every crew member aboard United Flight 175 — the Los Angeles-bound Boeing 767 that crashed into the south tower of the former World Trade Center after taking off from Boston.

“Everyone was going to forget what those crew members were up against, and what they accomplished under those conditions,” Veneto said.

While pushing a beverage cart from Boston to New York seemed a fitting memorial to his fallen colleagues, the 20 days he spent on the road last year showed that the symbolism of his journey stretched much deeper.

Related: Remembering the 8 pilots and 25 flight attendants who died on 9/11

Veneto pushes a beverage cart as part of Paulie's Push 2021. PAULIE'S PUSH

“I realized it was much more than me recognizing these crew members,” he recalled. “It turned into so much more.”

It wasn’t just the store owners who opened their windows and blared the theme from “Rocky" or the people who reconnected with neighbors as he passed by. It was also the depth of the intimate stories people shared with him along the way; these stories, as you might expect, grew in weight as he inched closer to Manhattan.

Veneto arriving in New York in 2021. PAULIE'S PUSH

“I could see the change on their faces as they would say something to me,” he said.

He knew his work had to continue. So after incorporating his mission into a 501(c)(3) organization over the last year, he turned his sights on a second site.

Related: The aviation industry remembers 9/11

This year’s push

The second edition of Veneto’s journey — which is currently underway — has him pushing a beverage cart from Dulles International Airport (IAD) outside Washington, D.C., to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. This journey simulates the route of American Airlines Flight 77, which hit the nerve center for the U.S. armed forces 21 years ago this weekend.

Paulie’s Push 2022 began inside the crew room at Dulles, where Veneto had the opportunity to reconnect with the loved ones of fallen crew members, as well as airline staff members who were on the ground at Dulles that day.

Veneto prepares for Paulie's Push 2022 on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport (IAD). PAULIE'S PUSH

That was more than enough to give Veneto the strength he needed for this year’s push.

“When someone tells you a story that ‘we’re connected to this,’ I can see it in their eyes; I can see it in their face,” he said. “The color changes in their face.”

This year’s cart push is far shorter; it'll take four days instead of 20 and just a few dozen miles.

Of course, the end of the route — set to happen this Sunday, Sept. 11 — takes a bit more coordination than last year’s emphatic conclusion.

“Not anybody can roll a beverage cart into the Pentagon,” Veneto told TPG.

WESTEND61/GETTY IMAGES

Fortunately, he has a “special connection” in the form of a friend with a deep personal and family background in the military who will set the stage for him at the finish line. Veneto knows better, at this point, than to try and script ahead of time.

After all, between this year and last, every mile he’s pushed the cart has contained surprises surpassing imagination.

“I can’t even imagine what I’m in for at the Pentagon,” he said. “I won’t, even.”

A push to Pennsylvania planned

This year's edition of Paulie’s Push is, physically, a less daunting road (at just 35 miles) than 2021’s trek. However, there’s no doubt that a much longer journey is in the works for next year.

After honoring crew members with his on-foot push to ground zero and the Pentagon, there is one site left.

Indeed, Veneto plans to simulate the path his fallen, fellow crew members of United Flight 93 followed. So, in 2023, he will push a cart from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to the Pennsylvania crash site — which is now a memorial — near Shanksville.

Day 1 of Paulie's Push 2022 brought Veneto down a bike path in Fairfax County, Virginia, en route to the Pentagon. PAULIE'S PUSH

A journey far longer than any so far, Veneto already feels both physically and mentally up to the challenge because he's seen the effect his mission has had on others.

“It just doesn’t stop,” he said of the stream of fallen victims’ family members who have reconnected with him since that day he stepped off the ramp at Logan Airport last year.

What will next year’s push bring?

He can’t possibly predict it, he told TPG as he prepared to set out on Day 2 of his second push.

“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen today,” he said. “It’s total magic that happens out there.”

To follow along with Paulie's Push 2022 or to donate, visit the organization's website.

Featured image by PAULIE'S PUSH
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases