Among the nearly 3,000 Americans who died during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, was 38-year-old Rich Guadagno, who had been an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 17 years. He was on United Flight 93 along with 39 other passengers and crew when the plane was hijacked and later crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Guadagno loved nature since he was a child. He first worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service as a temporary biologist at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. His first permanent job with the agency was as a wildlife inspector in Philadelphia. Subsequent career moves took him to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware, Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, Baskett Slough and Ankeny National Wildlife Refuges in Oregon and, in 2000, to Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where he was the refuge manager.
In addition to being a refuge manager, he was also a law enforcement officer for FWS. He was the only federal law enforcement officer aboard any of the four hijacked flights on 9/11.
He had been visiting family in New Jersey for his grandmother’s 100th birthday party a few days before September 11 and was on his way back to California. It is believed that he was among the passengers who rushed the hijackers and prevented Flight 93 from being crashed into the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
The visitor center and headquarters building at Humboldt Bay NWR is named for Guadagno, who oversaw construction of the building but didn’t live to see it completed. At Baskett Slough NWR, a trail and an observation deck are named in his honor. And at Humboldt State University, Richard J. Guadagno Memorial Scholarships are awarded to undergraduate or graduate students enrolled in natural resources and sciences majors.
In light of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, FWS recently posted an article featuring memories of Guadagno from his fellow FWS employees.
Paula Golightly, who managed the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the Coastal Program in nearby Arcata, California, visited Guadagno at Humboldt Bay in September 2001. “We talked about what a great view of the wetlands his new office was going to have. He left for the East Coast a couple of days later, and I never saw him again.”
Golightly remembers that Guadagno “believed in being inclusive and wanted to spark more in-depth interest from the public in fish and wildlife while also protecting and restoring habitats.”
Another notable article, a recent interview with Guadagno’s sister Lori, is on the website of the Boston NPR station WBUR. (The article is adapted from the podcast Sacred Ground.) She says that she still wears her brother’s brown FWS-issued North Face jacket, and she tells the story of how Rich’s FWS law-enforcement badge was discovered at the Pennsylvania crash site.
She also explains why a bird’s nest that she found at the crash site a year after 9/11 is particularly meaningful to her.