Sept. 11: Flight 93 remembered for bravery, heroism
Families came from across the country, joined by supporters and local community members. They came to a Pennsylvania field to grieve and remember.
A 70-year-old woman rode her Harley Davidson from Northern California. A hairdresser from Virginia Beach, Va., came dressed in a shirt she embroidered with names and phrases forever associated with the crash -- "Let's roll" in cursive across her collar. A third-grader came with his grandmother from the nearby town of Rockwood, Pa.
They gathered Saturday with thousands of others -– including former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- near Shanksville for the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial, erected in the field where the hijacked plane crashed on Sept. 11 a decade ago.
The 40 passengers and crew members were remembered as heroes who prevented even greater devastation on that day by overcoming the hijackers and forcing them to down the plane before reaching the intended target –- believed to be the U.S. Capitol. Instead, Flight 93 slammed into a reclaimed mine site and hemlock grove a few miles outside the coal country town.
"A couple more seconds and it would have hit the school," said third-grader Devin Snyder, 8.
As the ceremony began the sun broke through the clouds for the first time in a week. Father Daniel Coughlin, the chaplain of the House of Representatives in 2001, opened with a prayer. "They became willing seeds planted for freedom's harvest," he said of the passenger and crew.
The effort to build a memorial on the rural site remains a work in progress. The dedication unveiled a new granite wall bearing the names of the dead and a new 900-foot walkway allowing visitors to walk within yards of the actual crash crater -– a space considered sacred ground and still off-limits to nearly all but victims’ families.
Saying the passengers and crew “gave the country an incalculable gift,” Clinton compared them to the 300 Greek warriors who fought a massive Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae. They were certain they would die, he said, but fought bravely and, in the end, saved their country.
The world has not forgotten what the ancient Greeks did. Clinton said that “2,500 years from now I hope and pray to God people will still remember this.”
Bush said that it will never be known how many lives the uprising on Flight 93 saved. The heroism the crew and passengers demonstrated above that Pennsylvania field ranks “among the most courageous acts in American history,” he said.
“The passengers of Flight 93 set an example that inspires us all,” Bush added.
A relative of one of the victims struck a similar theme. For all the horror of that day, Flight 93 carried a message of hope, said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93.
“It was that first victory that gave us some hope on a dark day in our history,” Felt said in an interview. Felt’s brother, Edward Felt, was killed in the crash.
-- Kathleen Hennessy in Shanksville, Pa., and Steve Padilla in Los Angeles
Photo: Diane McCusker, right, a flight attendant with United Airlines who had flown with the crew that died in the crash of Flight 93, stands with her husband, Charles, as they view the site of the crash in Shanksville, Pa. Credit: Associated Press.