President addresses somber 9/11 gathering in Shanksville
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Thousands of visitors sat in near silence Tuesday morning in Somerset County, as a pair of bells rang out with dramatic chimes.
They rang 40 times, sounding to honor the passengers and crew members, who died when United Flight 93 plummeted into a vacant reclaimed strip mine in Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001.
The plane crashed when those 40 passengers and crew members chose to take action against four hijackers, thwarting their plans to use the aircraft to attack the nation’s capital.
On Tuesday, President Donald J. Trump stood at the Flight 93 National Memorial not far from the plane’s impact site.
There, he spoke to a crowd of thousands gathered at the site to remember those who died 17 years earlier.
“We are here to pay solemn tribute to the 40 passenger and crew members on Flight 93 who rose up, defied the enemy, took control of their destiny and changed the course of history,” Trump said. “Today, we mourn their loss; we share their story.”
Flight 93 — from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco — was one of four planes hijacked Sept. 11, 2001. The others were used as missiles by hijackers, who crashed them into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
It’s believed that Flight 93 also was headed for the nation’s capital, but its passengers banded together and mounted an attack forcing the plane to crash in Shanksville, about 20 minutes flying time from its intended destination.
Trump honed in on those actions as he spoke, calling the passengers and crew, a “band of brave patriots” who “turned the tide on our nation’s enemies and joined the immortal ranks of American heroes.”
“We remember a moment when America fought back,” Trump said.
The living family members of those who fought back were in attendance and took turns at a microphone, reading the names of the their deceased loved ones during the bell-ringing remembrance ceremony.
Parents, children, siblings and grandchildren were among them.
Trump addressed those loved ones directly, telling them that people across the country sympathize with their losses.
“We grieve together for every mother and father, sister and brother, son and daughter who were stolen from us,” Trump said. “We honor their sacrifice by pledging to never flinch in the face of evil and to do whatever it takes to keep America safe.”
Those remarks were met with cheers and applause from the crowd.
Within that crowd was Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, whose brother, Edward, was one of the passengers aboard the plane.
Felt spoke earlier in the day, also lauding his brother and others who took action on Flight 93 for their courage in the skies above Somerset County in 2001.
“Little did we know in that moment that choices that our loved ones made in the final 35 excruciatingly terrifying minutes of their lives … would serve to inspire a nation,” Felt said. “They were not passive. They did not sit back and let events unfold before them.”
And he asked those in attendance to remember the passengers’ actions and to emulate their courage.
The importance of remembrance was not stressed by Felt alone. It was also the focus of remarks by former Gov. Mark Schweiker, who took office in October 2001, when his predecessor, Tom Ridge, was named to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Schweiker spoke about a recent experience he had with college students and the realization that it produced.
“Our college students aren’t old enough to remember firsthand what happened here,” he said.
He then called on those in the crowd, asking them to ensure that future generations learn what happened on Flight 93 in September 2001.
“We must never forget what took place here. We must never forget the heroes that sacrificed here,” Schweiker said. “It was here that freedom took its traumatic stand.”
The word hero, current Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said, is often overused and attributed to less than heroic acts.
However, that is not the case when speaking about the passengers and crew members of Flight 93, he said.
“We hail them as heroes, and we recall their actions,” Wolf said. “They did not know who they were saving. They did not know where the plane would lead or whose lives that plane might take. They only knew that their fellow Americans were at risk, so they sacrificed everything for them.”
Trump also remembered the emergency responders — police, firefighters and medical experts — who rushed to the Flight 93 crash site and to the twin towers and the Pentagon, running toward the burning wreckage in an attempt to render aid.
Then he brought the message back to “the 40.”
He talked about their actions as the plane approached Shanksville and the phone calls they made to family members, “whispering those eternal words: ‘I love you.'”
He chronicled their fight against the hijackers and their ultimate end in the reclaimed strip mine.
“They fought until the very end, and they stopped the forces of terror. … A piece of America’s heart is buried in these grounds, but in its place has grown a new resolve to live our lives with the same grace and courage as the heroes of Flight 93,” Trump said, before speaking words that would receive a standing ovation.
“This memorial is now a message to the world,” he said. “America will never ever submit to tyranny.”