‘From fingers to a fist’: Heroics of Flight 93 passengers, crew remembered on 9/11 anniversary
They stood in line Wednesday under a hot Somerset County sun, waiting to say one of 40 names that have been forged into the country’s history.
Some held back tears as they approached the microphone. Some added extra meaning: “flight attendant, “first officer,” “our beloved,” “our brother.”
Bells rang 40 times for the 40 passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93 who died Sept. 11, 2001, a few hundred feet away in a Stonycreek Township field.
Their names are etched on a marble wall at Flight 93 National Memorial. Those names are also carved into the hearts of all Americans, Vice President Mike Pence said during the 18th annual 9/11 memorial ceremony.
“America was attacked on Sept. 11, but America took that fight back to our enemies on that very same day,” he said. “Not on some foreign battlefield, but right here, in the skies above these fields where the heroes of Flight 93 were forged.”
About 1,000 people gathered at the national memorial on Wednesday to remember the sacrifice and heroic actions of those aboard the hijacked plane 18 years ago. An overflow crowd sat on the ground and on nearby benches as grasshoppers jumped through the air.
The plane was believed to be destined for Washington, D.C., a short 18 minutes by air from the site of the crash.
“What the terrorists of 9/11 did not understand is that the American people’s love of peace is exceeded only by our resolve to defend our freedom,” Pence said. “The fiery ordeal through which the heroes of Flight 93 passed lit the way for heroes that were to come. And it will inspire generations of Americans for all time.”
Gordon Felt, president of Families of Flight 93, said three factors that the group relied on to make their decision to fight back should be used in everyday life. Those qualities were strength through diversity, commitment to democratic principles and willingness to make tough decisions, he said.
“I can’t imagine asking any more of the 40 heroes that perished on this sacred ground fighting for their lives and in the process, saving our country from an even darker end to Sept. 11, 2001,” said Felt, whose brother Edward Felt was a passenger on Flight 93. “But how about you? How about me? Or any of us here today? Have we done enough?
“Are we letting the lessons learned on Sept. 11, 2001, affect decisions that we are making in 2019, or have we filed those lessons away to be resurrected once a year on this day?” he said. “I ask that you remember that any one of us could have been on board Flight 93 that morning. Any one of us could’ve been faced with the unspeakable horror of facing down evil incarnate. Any one of us could have been forced to choose between passivity under pressure or fighting to survive.”
Boston University journalism professor Mitchell Zuckoff said the group’s actions should be celebrated and emulated. The group gathered information about three other hijacked airplanes and crashes in New York City and at the Pentagon during phone calls to family. The passengers and crew made a plan to fight back against the terrorists who took over their airplane.
But first they took a vote, Zuckoff said.
“How American is that?” he asked. “Facing an existential crisis, they decided to vote on a response.”
The group gave Americans a “glimmer of hope” during a dark day, said Zuckoff, the author of “Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11.”
“We are compelled to celebrate every man and every woman aboard that plane equally and collectively. Their story, like the American story, is about more than individual achievement or individual interests,” he said. “It’s about the power of what can be accomplished when people trust one another and find strength in one another.
“The men and women of Flight 93 changed from strangers to partners, from fingers to a fist.”
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .