SHANKSVILLE – Several hundred people gathered at the National Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville on Wednesday to mark the 18th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the crash of United Flight 93.
Mitchell Zuckoff, a professor of journalism at Boston University who wrote a book on 9/11, said he was there to defend “the apolitical argument that through their actions, their statements and ultimately their shared sacrifice , the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93 should be celebrated and emulated to represent the greatest of all American values.
These passengers and crew retaliated against four terrorists who hijacked the Boeing 757 with the intention of crashing it into a government building in Washington, DC.
It was the only one of the four hijacked planes on September 11, 2001 that did not hit the target of its pirates; the rest hit the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, killing nearly 3,000 people.
Claiming that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 represent the highest American ideals, Zuckoff noted that while most of them were strangers to each other, they “put aside their individual interests ”and came together to organize a cohesive revolt against the spur of the moment.
He also pointed out that passenger Jeremy Glick told his wife during a phone call from the hijacked plane that the passengers were planning to vote on whether to fight the hijackers.
“How American is that?” ” He asked. “Faced with an existential crisis, they decided to vote on an answer.”
Zuckoff was one of many speakers at a ceremony that began around 9:30 a.m. with a brief performance by Pittsburgh’s River City Brass Band. Stephen Clark, memorial superintendent, then welcomed the crowd, and Reverend Paul Britton, brother of Flight 93 passenger Marion Britton, delivered an invocation.
Beginning at 9:57 a.m. and ending at approximately 10:03 a.m., as Flight 93 touched down on September 11, 2001, the names of the 40 passengers and crew on board the flight were read aloud, with two “remembrance bells” being rung after each.
Public member Mary Konieczny, of Pittsburgh, greeted the organizers of the ceremony, which also included comments from Vice President Mike Pence, Home Secretary David Bernhardt and Gordon Felt, President of Families of Flight 93 and Brother of passenger Edward Porter Felt.
“I thought it was a big ceremony,” she said. “I think it’s only getting better.”
Konieczny said she also attended the anniversary celebrations at the memorial in 2017 and 2018. The 2017 edition of the event also featured Pence as the keynote speaker, and last year’s ceremony was led by the President Donald Trump. This year, she and Mikayla Kuzma, also from Pittsburgh, decided to take a day off to attend the celebration.
“I was like, ‘What a great place to honor the patriots who died that day.’ We’re both gone, it’s September 11th – there’s no better place to be, ”Konieczny said.
“I felt the same,” Kuzma added. “I had never been here, and thought it was a great day to come.”
Their feelings echoed those of Bernhardt, who also noted in his speech that this year the first children to be born after the attacks began to enroll in college. He said the National Flight 93 Memorial is “vital” to keeping the events of September 11, 2001 alive for adolescents and other young people for whom the attacks are simply a historic event.
After the ceremony was over, Pence, his wife Karen, Bernhardt, Felt and many family members of the passengers and crew placed a wreath on the wall of the names of the memorial. Several family members then visited the boulder that marks the spot where the plane struck the ground a short distance from Memorial Plaza.
Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.