Those who knew Todd Beamer as a boy and young man in Wheaton, Illinois, did not foresee how he would become a national hero on September 11. But his teachers, friends, and coaches say the easygoing Beamer had a competitive streak and strong faith that prepared him to act decisively in an emergency.

Beamer, 32, was one of several passengers who interfered with hijackers on United Flight 93, causing the Boeing 757 to crash into a Pennsylvania field instead of into a presumed target 20 minutes away in Washington, D.C. His last known words, "Let's roll," have become a rallying cry for many in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Until he died, Beamer was a resident of Cranbury, New Jersey. A sales account manager for Oracle Corporation, Beamer was traveling on business. Beamer was born in Flint, Michigan, and attended grammar school, most of high school, and college in Wheaton, a prosperous suburb of Chicago.

David Kohlmeyer, a friend and teammate through grammar school and high school, said he was glad Beamer was on his team. Beamer always seemed to come out on top in their friendly one-on-one competitions.

"He was just tough to beat," Kohlmeyer said, chuckling. "We were close in skill, but whenever we played, he just seemed to have my number."

Although Beamer was ruthless on the court or field, friends say he was friendly and relaxed when the game was over.

Steve Clum, who taught Beamer in fifth grade at Wheaton Christian Grammar School, remembered Beamer as a "quiet young man with inner strength." Clum said Beamer defended classmates who were teased.

T.J. Bean, who played pickup games with Beamer at Wheaton College, noted the same combination of resolve and gentleness.

"He was intense when he competed, but as soon as he was out of ...

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