We were there 10 years later.
It is difficult to fathom the unequaled courage and bravery and concern for their fellow man that was demonstrated by the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. But as one hears the stories told of the cell phone calls made by those heroes to family and acquaintances on that fateful day, it becomes clear that they were heroes beyond compare.
It was our privilege, Bill and I, to attend the dedication of the memorial to these heroes on Sept. 10 in Shanksville, Pa. We had followed the progress on the memorial since we made an earlier visit some five years ago, after which we made a few contributions to the cause. Due to these contributions, we were invited guests to the dedication ceremony on Saturday and the commemorative service on Sunday morning where they had ministers participate. There were invocations and moments of prayer. I say this to contrast with other 9/11 ceremonies that left clergy out.
The memorial is a national park and is still in process, but what you see and feel there makes one proud to be a part of a society that has men and women as those on Flight 93, who step up on a moment’s notice and become such heroes.
As the speakers for the day — President George Bush, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden — all referenced these men and women did not wake up that day with plans for the extraordinary heroic actions. They just got up, caught an airplane and were put in a circumstance we can barely imagine.
On that fateful day, these men and women let the world know that Americans will not lie down but will fight to defend our freedom as these terrorists try to destroy our nation. In what they knew were there final minutes, they took action and prevented the further loss of life of many other citizens as their hijacked plane raced toward the capital in Washington, D.C. When the plane crashed into the ground, they were only 18 flying minutes from Washington.
There are so many things that make these men and women unusual and heroic in answering the greater call to something greater than themselves. Did you know that these folks took a vote as to whether they would rush the terrorists to take control of the plane? We need to remember this every time we have the opportunity to vote. They sacrificed themselves to allow us the continued privilege of the vote.
There was the fact that they were busy boiling water to use as a weapon in the attack. One of the passengers asked an operator on the phone service to pray with him. All who talked to family and friends made clear they were not afraid, that they knew what they needed to do and what they were planning. They told family and friends of their love for them. Some of the conversations that were recalled by those receiving the calls seem almost surreal.
Being able to sit at these programs with several hundred family members of those who died in the crash; a number of firemen, first responders and other citizens who have played an important role in helping families to grieve their losses. The outpouring of the community in support of these families was recognized. For us to be there at these emotionally moving ceremonies with these folks was a privilege.
As one stands there and views the broad landscape of the crash site, it belies what happened there. There is a large field with wildflowers and a huge boulder marking the exact site. There are 40 large white marble pieces on end, where the names of each passenger and crew member are engraved. These panels are in a straight line to the boulder, which marks the flight path of the plane as it crashed.
The speakers spoke of historical events that may approach the valor demonstrated at this place on 9/11, but all recognized that these were ordinary (maybe not ordinary) citizens, not military or public servants (all of whom risk their lives and pay the ultimate cost too frequently). They had a choice — sit still and let the hijackers have their victory or step forward and prevent the hijackers’ ultimate goal of striking another of our nation’s buildings and taking the lives of many more. They knew what had happened in New York and Washington. They determined that they would not let it happen again in Washington.
They were successful.
This nation and all of us, as citizens, will forever owe a large debt to these men and women. If you want to be inspired, there is no better place and story of what happened in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001. Go to the Flight 93 Memorial. You will be glad that you did.