Unlike many 11-year-olds, Bernard Brown bounded out of his house every school day. "He lived to go to school," said his mother, Sinita. ''If he was sick, he would always say he was feeling better so he could get to school."
But before Bernard left, a few things had to be in order. His parents did not demand it, but Bernard's bed had to be made, his room straightened up, and his clothes ironed before he stepped out into the world. "Oh yes, he was a neat child," his mother recalled with a laugh. He also awoke with a unusual energy. "He would just pop right up out of bed," said his mother. So she did not mind letting him stay up late to watch basketball on television.
Bernard was clever, a quick wit, the kind of boy who kept his teachers on their toes. Estella Cleveland, who taught his fifth-grade class at Leckie Elementary School, loved him. "He was so fun-loving," she said. "He was the joy of the class."
A Washington resident and basketball fanatic, Bernard was enlivened by the prospect of Michael Jordan running the court for his hometown Wizards. He always said he was going to be a star; that he was going to play professional basketball some day. He bought a pair of Air Jordan basketball shoes a few days before he lost his life and was proudly wearing them on September 11th on a flight to California with his teacher, Hilda Taylor, as part of a nature trip sponsored by the National Geographic Society.
Bernard, praised for his spelling, drawing and zest for living, was one of 64 people aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon — the workplace of his father.
After news broke that the Pentagon had been attacked in addition to the World Trade Center in New York City, Bernard's mother's phone started ringing with calls from family and friends asking if her husband was safe. She reassured them that her husband, Bernard Brown Sr., an information systems technician at the Pentagon, had been on a golf outing that morning and was out of harm's way. Then, as media outlets identified the American Airlines jet that had struck the building, Sinita learned the awful truth. "It wasn't big Bernard," she said. "It was little Bernard."