This song is about Flight 93, the plane that was hijacked on September 11, 2001, but crashed in Pennsylvania before hitting the terrorists' target, which was probably a building in Washington, D.C.
Young wrote this after reading about Todd Beamer, one of the passengers who fought the hijackers and crashed the plane. Beamer called an Airfone operator to explain that they were going to rush the terrorists. Before he hung up, the operator heard him tell the other passengers, "Let's Roll." This conversation with the Airfone operator was the inspiration for the lyrics.
"Let's Roll" was Beamer's favorite saying. He said it to his kids all the time.
Young described the creative inspiration behind the song in a 2002 interview with Pulse Magazine: "[Beamer's wife Lisa] was talking about how he always used to say that ("let's roll") with the kids when they'd go out and do something, that it's what he said a lot when he had a job to do. And it's just so poignant, and there's no more of a legendary, heroic act than what those people did. With no promise of martyrdom, no promise of any reward anywhere for this, other than just knowing that you did the right thing. And not even having a chance to think about it or plan it or do anything - just a gut reaction that was heroic and ultimately cost them all their lives. What more can you say? It was just so obvious that somebody had to write something or do something."
This was not released as a commercial single, but Young sent the song to radio stations, which started playing it in November 2011. Young didn't do any typical promotion for the song, but radio stations picked it up anyway, notably KLOS in Los Angeles, which was the first to air it. As soon as a few stations started playing the song, many others followed. In 2002, Young included the song on his album, Are You Passionate?
The band playing with Young on this song is Booker T. & the MG's, famous as the Stax Records house band, where they played on many Soul classics by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Isaac Hayes. They had a hit of their own in 1962 with "Green Onions."
Frank "Poncho" Sampedro joined on guitar for this. He was a member of Young's band, Crazy Horse.
According to CNN, Young was threatened with civil action by Beamer's wife Lisa, who stated that prior to the song's release she had planned to trademark the phrase "Let's Roll" to be used on various collectibles, in hopes of attracting prospective converts to fundamentalist Christianity. Several merchants had applied for the trademark before her, and before Young's song was released.
Ekristheh - Halath