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'Our 40' — Heroes of United Flight 93 remembered on 9/11 anniversary in Western Pa.

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, 5:24 p.m.

Grief has not subsided for families who lost loved ones when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a Somerset County field 17 years ago.

It’s evident in their tears as they somberly say the name of one of the 40 passengers or crew members during an annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony. It’s visible when they take a moment to stand before a tangible reminder at the Wall of Names at the Flight 93 National Memorial.

That pain is shouldered by all Americans, President Trump told them Tuesday.

“We carry your great, great sorrow,” he said. “Your tears are not shed alone.”

On a solemn, gray morning in the rural Stonycreek Township field, about 1,000 people gathered at the national memorial to honor the heroic actions of those aboard the hijacked plane Sept. 11, 2001. Trump was met with a standing ovation, cheers, woos and whistles by the crowd, some of whom wore T-shirts and hats in support of him.

The ceremony was marked tears and memories of the passengers and crew members who died fighting back against terrorists. The plane was believed to be destined for Washington, D.C., a short 18 minutes by air from the site of the crash.

“This field is now a monument to American defiance,” Trump said. “America will never ever submit to tyranny.”

“As commander in chief, I will always do everything in my power to prevent terrorists from striking American soil,” he said.

Mark and Brenda Roberston of Confluence wore shirts emblazoned with “Trump 2020” and “Keep America Great.” They attended to support him and show respect to the families.

“I’m glad he talked about the memorial,” Brenda Robertson said. “I didn’t hear him trying to win votes. He was not here campaigning.”

Trump, in a speech that lasted a little more than 15 minutes, touched on a “band of brave patriots,” saying their actions are remembered as “the moment when America fought back.”

“They boarded the plane as strangers, and they entered eternity forever as true heroes,” the president said.

He and first lady Melania Trump went through the visitors center afterward and viewed the crash site before leaving in a military aircraft. After the ceremony, former Gov. Mark Schweiker and current Gov. Tom Wolf led a group of Flight 93 family members out to the Sacred Ground — the final resting place for passengers and crew — to lay a wreath at the Wall of Names.

Earlier at the podium, Schweiker said he is still awestruck by what “the 40” did. He last spoke at the memorial on the first anniversary.

“We must never forget what took place here,” Schweiker said. “We must never forget the heroes who sacrificed here. And we must never forget … the remarkably noble sacrifice.”

Differences among passengers and crew did not impede their hasty plan that ultimately impacted the nation, said Gordon Felt, president of Families of Flight 93. That should serve as an inspiration.

“If we choose to forget the lessons learned on Sept. 11, 2001 through neglect, apathy or distraction, we become less honorable, less heroic and less free,” he said.

The word hero can be overused, Wolf said. But not in this case.

“The people who found themselves on Flight 93, the 40 … are indeed heroes,” he said, adding that designation also belongs to emergency responders who rushed to the field.

The Rev. Paul Britton described the men and women who died, including his sister Marion, as fearless.

“They, the 40, acted not subdued by the power of violence and not held back by the disease of fear,” he said. “They, our 40, acted from a friendship formed in but a few minutes.”

“They, the 40, are strong and courageous on behalf of you and I and all others,” he said. “For the love of others and, by grace, to protect others, they challenge us to do no less than to live strong lives courageously for others. Be strong. Be courageous. Do not be afraid.”

Staff writer Mary Pickels contributed to this report. Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, rsignorini@tribweb.com or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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