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Barbara Edwards, CBS 2's Brad Edwards' Aunt, Was Killed On 9/11; For A Family, The Fireball Still Burns 20 Years Later

HOPKINS, Mich. (CBS) -- Twenty years ago, Barbara Edwards boarded American Airlines Flight 77.

Her life ended a short time later in a fireball in the Pentagon.

This is an untold story of the Pentagon - like the many untold stories amongst the literal hundreds to stories of World Trade Center loss. It's a story that involves the family of CBS 2's own Brad Edwards.

In the middle of Michigan farmland at Lakeview Cemetery - where there's no lake in view – there is a headstone, with a date on it.

That date is Sept. 11, 2001. Beneath the headstone lies Barbara Edwards, who is buried alongside her parents.

Barbara Edwards Headstone
(Credit: CBS 2)

Barbara Edwards died in a fireball. Despite what clichés tell you about the passage of time, it still burns.

"It's just a big hole that's remained there," said Barbara Edwards' son, Scott. "It's never been, that's never even closed a little bit."

Scott's son, Scott Jr., is the only grandson Barbara would know.

Scott Edwards, Scott Edwards Jr., Barb Edwards
Scott Edwards holding his son, Scott Edwards Jr., with Barb Edwards on their right. (Credit: Edwards Family)

Brad Edwards: "Do you remember her?"

Scott Edwards Jr.: "No."

Brad Edwards: "That's sad."

Scott Edwards Jr.: "Yeah."

Scott Edwards Jr.
Scott Edwards Jr. (Credit: CBS 2)

Scott Jr. has no recall of Barbara's bear-hugs and big kisses. But there's someone else who does very well.

Years earlier, Barbara offered those same big hugs and kisses to another Edwards baby boy. That baby boy was Brad Edwards.

Barbara Edwards, Brad Edwards
Barbara Edwards, with CBS 2's Brad Edwards when he was a little boy. (Credit; Brad Edwards)

Barbara was his godmother, and his aunt.

She was there for Brad's 1997 high school graduation. She was funny that day – quipping that she'd best suck in her stomach before a photo op sandwiched between Brad and his brother.

Brad Edwards' High School Graduation
Bar Edwards, standing in the back row second from right, at Brad Edwards' high school graduation. (Credit: Brad Edwards)

Afterward, Brad got busy as he began four years of college. His high school graduation day was the last time he saw his aunt Barbara alive – and it is a regret that he never forgets.

The Scott Edwards family lives in Dallas, Texas – Scott, wife Chrissy, and children Scott Jr. and Anna. Both Scott Jr. and Anna said 9/11 plays an active role in their lives.

Barbara never met her granddaughter Anna, now 16. But Barbara is honored in her granddaughter's full name – Anna Barbara Edwards.

When Brad visited his cousin Scott, everyone took a moment to remember Barbara Edwards – with her energy and the exuberant volume of her voice.

Barbara, a high school cheerleader, had blue eyes as placid as the Lake Michigan water she loved.

Barbara married one Edwards boy, while Brad's mom married another. They each had five more Edwards boys – with Scott and Brad being the youngest of each family.

Scott became a Marine. On Sept. 11, 2001, he abruptly halted drills.

"We had a mission that was going out that morning, and I just had to call the guys and say: 'Hey, you've got to shut down. Everything is canceled,' and they were just kind of like, 'What?'" he said. "(I said), 'All flights are canceled in the U.S. you need to just get in here.'"

Then, his brother called.

"And he just said, matter-of-factly, like, 'Mom and the Flaggs were on Flight 77 and they're all dead,'" Scott said.

Barbara was flying home with family friends the Flaggs on the Pentagon plane.

Terror begot war. And the Marine son - who'd just lost his mom - left a new bride, a baby boy, and broken hearts, to fight.

"Losing her, and then he deployed shortly after," Chrissy said, "and every year that goes by, nothing gets easier. I keep thinking, 'Oh, you know, now it's 10 years - things are going to get easier,' and its 20 years, and it feels just like yesterday. And it's hard."

Scott Edwards
Scott Edwards

Scott deployed four times post 9/11. He was on the ground in Iraq, and in the air as a Marine fighter pilot.

Scott: "We were flying from Kuwait – doing 11, 11-1/2-hour missions, over to Afghanistan – in support of the ground troops that were there at the time."

Two decades later, people are desperately trying to escape Afghanistan as the Taliban has taken the country back over. Brad asked Scott if he was angry with the hell in Afghanistan we see today.

Scott: "I am. I'm very angry. We lost a lot of good people over there. I lost some personal friends over there. I have a friend who's flying in and out of there, getting people out - and what he says to me is heartbreaking."

Brad: "What does he say to you?"

Scott: "He just says it's a complete…"

Brad: "Use the exact words."

Scott: "It's a shit show."

Chrissy could not help but have flashbacks to the horrors of years past, and feel profound anger, when 13 U.S. servicemembers were killed and more than a dozen others injured in an attack outside the airport in Kabul in late August.

"When those 13 people were killed the other day, I lost it. I can't imagine their families getting a knock on their door; their wives. I've had friends that have gone through that," Chrissy said. "I just can't stop feeling sad. There's nothing I can do. And I'm angry. I feel like I'm reliving 20 years ago."

Twenty years ago when that plane hit the Pentagon, Barbara was flying home to Las Vegas, where she taught at Palo Verde High School. They memorialized her grandly, and annually.

Chrissy: "I want our kids to see what an impact she had, like, on that school."

Scott: "(Las Vegas) of all places has really kind of been the shining light of Barb since 9/11 happened."

So off the Edwards family went to Vegas, to thank a place that embodies not forgetting with those annual memorials in which the Air Force ROTC at Palo Verde High School participate.

Barbara Edwards Memorial
Barbara Edwards' memorial at Palo Verde High School (Credit: News 8 Now)

Barbara is also remembered in New York, where her name appears inscribed in the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero – next to the names of the Flaggs, her travel companions.

Brad: "Buddy Flagg is who to you?"

Scott: "He was my mentor."

Buddy Flagg
Buddy Flagg

Buddy Flagg was the reason Scott became a pilot. Flagg was a passenger on 9/11 on American Airlines Flight 77, but he was also a retired American Airlines pilot, a Vietnam vet, and a retired rear admiral in the Navy.

Brad: "You knowing Buddy Flagg, would he have let that plane be taken over by terrorists without putting up a fight?"

Scott: Not in a million years. And Buddy was big guy. I believe that he was fighting for the airplane. And he would have known right from the get-go - just by the flight path of the air path - that it was not going to end in anything but a crash."

Scott explained that the specific point where the plane crashed into the Pentagon was a small site near where Flagg's office had been, which was under construction.

"And then, it's common for pilots in airplanes that they know are going to crash, to at least pick the point that could cause the least amount of damage or loss of life to people on the ground, and knowing they hit," he said. "So if the plane was going to go down, that would have been the place at the Pentagon at least that would have caused the minimal amount of loss of life."

Scott is now a pilot at FedEx. He is still delivering now, when we need him, in a pandemic – and still serving.

"Twenty years," Scott said. "I haven't seen my mom in 20 years. I haven't seen Dee and Buddy Flagg is 20 years. It's a big hole that's remained there. It's never been, never even closed a little bit."

Indeed, in his home, 9/11 never ends.

"The reason why my dad was gone so many times - you know, when I was little - on deployments," said Scott Jr., "and then obviously, you know, having one less grandmother is tough."

And Barbara isn't just a small box of earthen ashes in Hopkins, Michigan, where Brad's family and that of his cousin Scott's had cottages next to each other growing up.

She's there in the blonde hair, the blue eyes, and the personality of her granddaughter Anna.

Anna Barbara Edwards
Anna Barbara Edwards

Anna: "I've heard that she likes to march to the beat of her own drum, and she was a very, very happy person … and she was really outgoing."

Brad: "And that you're like her?"

Anna nodded yes.

Chrissy added, "I see so much of her in Anna."

Scott Jr. thought so too.

"Yeah, it's like Barb's be reincarnated into my sister, almost," he said.

Anna: "It's just like hearing like you're your favorite celebrity. Like, you tell a little boy he reminds you of Spider-Man. That would mean the world to him. It feels the same way."

Brad: "About being compared to Barb."

Anna nodded yes to that too.

There is one thing, though, that Anna Barbara Edwards misses.

Brad: "Is there ever moment where you're like, 'Man, I wish she was here?'"

Anna: "I mean, I just always wish she could come … and that like I had another family member."

She misses it all.

And the truth is that 20 years later, not everything laid to rest does so in peace.

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