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"Let's roll" is a catchphrase that has been used extensively as a command to move and start an activity, attack, mission or project.
Pre–September 11, 2001 usage
The phrase may have its origins as early as 1908 in the cadence song now called "The Army Goes Rolling Along", which likely extended into tank usage. "The Roads Must Roll", a science fiction story written in 1940 by Robert A. Heinlein, mentions a re-worded version of "The Roll of the Caissons" called "Road Songs of the Transport Cadets". The protagonist of the 1937 supernatural comedy, Topper, played by Cary Grant uses the phrase "Let's roll" to his wife, played by Constance Bennett, to indicate they should immediately exit their friend's stuffy office and find a drink. The pair are lighthearted, youthful, irresponsible and impossibly glamorous types, and the line delivery has a decisive insouciance about it. The protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's 1950 novel Across the River and into the Trees, Colonel Dick Cantwell, based on World War II commander Charles "Buck" Lanham, uses the phrase to his driver. He knows he is facing imminent death, but tries to maintain decency, grace, and a sense of humor. The verb "roll" has been used in both the film and recording industry to signal the beginning of a film or audio recording. "Let's roll" was in common use on 1950s and 1960s police television series such as Adam-12 and (the original) Dragnet. It was used at the end of roll call at the beginning of each episode of 1980s TV series Hill Street Blues. It has appeared, among other places, in The Transformers animated series by Optimus Prime before entering battle or embarking on a group journey. The exact phrase was used in Season 1, Episode 3 "More than Meets the Eye" (1984) in preparation for the final showdown with Megatron and the Decepticons (as well as in the 2009 feature film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). It was used in the 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the 1987 film Matewan, where it was used by Baldwin-Felts agents just before a violent attack on striking coal miners. The term was in widespread use in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and early 1990s, featuring in many low-budget TV productions and plays throughout the country. It was used at the end of the film Matilda when the title character was given up for adoption. The toys use the phrase when setting out to rescue Woody in the 1999 animated children's film Toy Story 2. In the late 1990s, the term "let's roll" was frequently used to initiate a departure from any given place. Hence, the term and true context of the term "let's roll" during this time period was to initiate action from an individual to a group of friends.
Todd Beamer, a passenger on the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, tried to place a credit card call through a phone located on the back of a plane seat but was routed to a customer-service representative instead, who passed him on to supervisor Lisa Jefferson. Beamer reported that one passenger was killed and, later, that a flight attendant had told him the pilot and co-pilot had been forced from the cockpit and may have been wounded. He was also on the phone when the plane made its turn in a southeasterly direction, a move that had him briefly panicking. Later, he told the operator that some of the plane's passengers were planning to attack the hijackers and take control of the aircraft. According to Jefferson, Beamer's last audible words were "Are you guys ready? Let's roll." It is widely speculated that Beamer was referring to the passengers using a food cart to try to break the cockpit door open and overpower the hijackers.
Several musicians and bands have written songs entitled or including the phrase "Let's Roll", with the songs typically referring to Flight 93 or Todd Beamer. The first song with the name, Neil Young's "Let's Roll", was released as a single in November 2001, and was later included in his album Are You Passionate?. The following year, three diverse groups released songs: hard rock group LA Guns included "Ok, Let's Roll" in their album Waking the Dead, country music duo The Bellamy Brothers's song "Let's Roll, America" was on Redneck Girls Forever, and Christian rock group dc Talk recorded and released a single entitled "Let's Roll" despite being on hiatus.
Three other 9/11-related songs by the name "Let's Roll" have been released in the following years. Montreal rock band The Stills's song was included on their debut album Logic Will Break Your Heart in 2003. Jonny L's song included a sample of President George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address speech which included the phrase. And Ray Stevens's song by the name was included in a box set in 2006.
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The catchphrase became especially known and popular after being used by President George W. Bush in a speech to AmeriCorps volunteers and during his 2002 State of the Union Address. Even though the phrase was in common use long before September 11, profiteers soon tried to lay claim to it as a trademark. The Todd M. Beamer Foundation was eventually granted a trademark for uses of the phrase relating to "pre-recorded compact discs, audio tapes, digital audio tapes, and phonograph records featuring music."
In the 2002 college football season, the Florida State Seminoles used "Let's Roll" as their official team slogan. After an initial uproar against the team by people who considered its usage in bad taste, the Todd M. Beamer Foundation officially licensed the trademark to the team.
Bobby Labonte drove a 9/11 tribute car with the words "Let's Roll" on the hood of his stock car.
In early 2002, United States Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper ordered that one airplane in each USAF squadron and all USAF demonstration planes would bear an image of an eagle on an American flag with the words "Let's Roll" and "Spirit of 9-11," to remain until the first anniversary of the attack. It was also used by Lisa Beamer, widow of Todd, in a 2003 book titled Let's Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage.
The phrase was also used in an episode of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm ("The Survivor", season 4, episode 9). The show's main character, Larry David, says the phrase inadvertently to his rabbi once he and his wife are ready to go out and renew their vows, who then becomes offended because of a relative of his died on September 11, 2001 ("You knew my brother-in-law died on September 11th, how dare you say something like that?!"). Larry takes issue with this, as his rabbi's relative was hit by a bike messenger ("Well, with all due respect, wasn't that just a coincidence?"), in an incident completely unrelated to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The phrase appears in the 2009 British black comedy satire film, In The Loop. One British character says to another, "Let's roll." To which the other replies; "You can't say that here, they don't like that."
In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Optimus Prime uses the phrase "Let's roll" during the final battle scene.
In 2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a N.E.S.T. soldier uses the phrase "let's roll" as an indicator to head to Chicago which was under attack by the Decepticons.
In 2011, American rapper Yelawolf released a song called "Let's Roll", which talks about Southern patriotism.
- McKinnon, Jim (September 16, 2001). "The phone line from Flight 93 was still open when a GTE operator heard Todd Beamer say: 'Are you guys ready? Let's roll'". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- ISBN 0-8423-7418-3