SHANKSVILLE, Pa. – The heroes of Flight 93 were remembered Saturday for their courage in the face of terror, at a memorial built in their honor.
Former President George W. Bush recalled visiting with family members of the passengers and crew – who fought back against hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, and helped force that plane down in a Pennsylvania field, short of its likely target in Washington, D.C.
“Twenty years ago, terrorists chose a random group of Americans on a routine flight to be collateral damage in a spectacular act of terror,” Bush said in his address at the Flight 93 National Memorial.
“The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected that day. In a sense, they stood in for us all. And the terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people. facing an impossible circumstance, they comforted their loved ones by phone, braced each other for action, and defeated the designs of evil.
“These Americans were brave, strong, and united in ways that shocked the terrorists – but should not surprise any of us. This is the nation we know. And whenever we need hope and inspiration, we can look to the skies and remember.”
An estimated 500 family members attended the gathering.
Vice President Kamala Harris, in her keynote address, called the Flight 93 crash site “hallowed ground … sanctified by sacrifice.”
She saluted “the courage of those on board, who gave everything they possibly could.”
The 9/11 anniversary ceremony also featured remarks by Stephen Clark, superintendent of the Flight 93 National Memorial for the National Park Service; Dave Kurtz, captain of the USS Somerset; Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf; Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93 group; and Deb Haaland, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Clark called the passengers and crew “40 remarkable people …who changed the course of history.”
Kurtz said: “Adversity took them by surprise. In response, they joined together and fought back.”
Haaland said the national memorial “serves as an enduring reminder of their bravery.”
Felt, whose brother Edward died in the crash, said of the passengers and crew: “They found the courage to band together in a moment’s notice, without thought of political, religious, professional or cultural differences. … And they changed the course of history.”
The gathering also featured music provided by “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band, as well as the traditional reading of the 40 names and the ringing of the Bells of Remembrance.
Ed Root, of Allentown, read the name of his cousin, who was a flight attendant on United Flight 93: “Lorraine Grace Bay, our angel.”
Before the ceremony, Root said that even after 20 years, “the emotions run the full gamut – angry, sad, empty, full – all within 10 seconds.”
But the memorial ceremony, and the national memorial, serve the purpose of keeping alive the stories of the heroes of Flight 93 for those too young to have experienced the events of 9/11.
“We need to help the young people understand the ‘us’ part of this,” he said, “so that to them, it’s not just a footnote to history.”