The word hero is thrown around quite a bit these days. But when applied to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said the description is spot-on.
On Sept. 11, 2001, after learning that hijacked planes already had been flown into the World Trade Center – killing thousands – passengers and crew members teamed up to overpower the hijackers on Flight 93, causing the plane to crash in a field in Shanksville, Pa. All aboard were killed, but many more lives were spared when the airliner couldn’t make it to its intended target: the U.S. Capitol.
“Hero is one of the most overused words in any language. We may bestow this title too quickly,” Wolf told those gathered at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, including President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump. “But the people who found themselves on Flight 93 … in the skies above us are, in fact, heroes.
“They did not know who they were saving. They only knew their fellow Americans were at risk, so they sacrificed everything for them. Their actions were heroic. Their sacrifice was patriotic. The people on that flight were truly special. They were truly heroes.”
A crowd that was estimated to reach thousands was on hand for the ceremony, including a group of Legionnaires from American Legion Post 911 in Shanksville. Despite the remarkable coincidence, the post’s number has nothing to do with the plane crash. The number was assigned when Post 911 was chartered in 1946.
Post 911 Commander Bill Lambert has lived near the crash site all but the 25 years of his life spent in the U.S. Army. On Sept. 11, 2001, he saw smoke and a fireball from his nearby farm after the plane crashed.
Though no one in Shanksville likely knew anyone on Flight 93, Lambert said the borough feels a strong connection to those killed and their families.
“For the people in this community, this definitely is very personal,” said Lambert, who attended his first remembrance ceremony this year. “The people here really opened up their hearts to the families. I remember them lining the streets holding signs and American flags when the buses with the family members would come to the crash site. That’s just the way the people are around here.”
The ceremony included the reading of the names of the passengers and crew members – many by family members – and a ringing of a bell for each name.
President Trump praised those on Flight 93 for boarding the plane as strangers but entering “eternity as heroes. We’re here to pay solemn tribute to the 40 passengers and crewmembers on Flight 93 who rose up, defied the enemy, took control of their destiny, and changed the course of history.”
The president said the 40 passengers and crew members both changed the tide on the nation’s enemies while joining the “immortal ranks” of American heroes.
“At this memorial, on this sacred earth, in the field beyond this wall, and in the skies above our heads, we remember the moment when America fought back,” Trump said. “The passengers and crew members came together, took a vote, and they decided to act. At that moment, they took their fate, and America’s fate, back into their own hands.
“They attacked the enemy. They fought until the very end. And they stopped the forces of terror and defeated this wicked, horrible, evil plan. Flight 93 crashed yards from where we stand, just 20 minutes flying time from the United States Capitol.”
Trump also assured the family members left behind that they are not forgotten. “Today, all of America wraps up and joins together,” he said. “We close our arms to help you shoulder your pain and to carry your great, great sorrow.
“Your tears are not shed alone, for they are shared grief with an entire nation. We grieve together for every mother and father, sister and brother, son and daughter, who was stolen from us at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and here in this Pennsylvania field. We honor their sacrifice by pledging to never flinch in the face of evil, and to do whatever it takes to keep America safe.”
Former Gov. Mark Schweiker – who became governor just weeks after 9-11 when his predecessor, Tom Ridge, resigned to become President George W. Bush’s Homeland Security Advisors – said the actions of those on Flight 93 continue to inspire him.
“I want you to know that at difficult times in my life, my thoughts go to them,” Schweiker said. “Their sacrifice, patriotism and love for America was, and remains, so incredibly pure that it is difficult for many to grasp.”
Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93 organization, said it is up to those left behind to keep the memories of the 40 passengers and crew alive “so that they can continue to motivate us and impact the course of our history. We have to choose to actively remember. There should never be a time when we willingly sit back and opt to remain idle when evil threatens our freedom. We have to choose to rise up and be better, as our loved ones did in their final moments. They deserve no less.”
Flight 93 National Memorial Superintendent Stephen M. Clark said those on Flight 93 kept the terrorists from inflicting more damage on the United States. “In the process, they sacrificed their very own lives to save so many,” he said. “Visitors that come to this memorial not only learn of the brave actions of those on board, but are inspired by that. Although they are missed by so many, they will never be forgotten.”
On Sept. 9, the memorial’s Tower of Voices was dedicated. The 93-foot concrete tower eventually will house 40 wind chimes to represent each of Flight 93’s 40 passengers and crew members.
“Every time we hear those chimes playing in the wind, we will remember the 40,” Trump said. “We will remember their faces, their voices, their stories, their courage and their love. And we will remember that free people are never at the mercy of evil because our destiny is always in our hands. America’s future is not written by our enemies. America’s future is written by our heroes.”