By Taryn Luna Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
To watch a video of the Flight 93 ceremony, please click here.
Ceremonies around the country on Tuesday honored the 3,000 men and women who died 11 years ago on a day that began like any other and ended forever ingrained in history.
And on a Somerset County hillside covered in a sea of warm-hued wildflowers where Flight 93 barreled into the earth, more than 1,000 people gathered with a pledge to never forget.
“The meaning of this place is about our 40 heroes and that we never lose sight,” said an emotional Jerry Bingham, the father of Mark Bingham, one of the passengers of the doomed flight from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco.
When the passengers and crew learned of the attacks on the World Trade Centers, they fought to regain control of the plane after it was hijacked by four al-Qaida terrorists.
Tuesday’s ceremony in their honor atop a serene hillside without a cloud in the sky was decidedly different than those in years past.
Traffic cruised along Route 30 up to the site. Remarks were abbreviated, yet heartfelt, and Vice President Joe Biden spent more time speaking with families at the crash site than he did on the podium.
Some family members said they connected with Mr. Biden because of his own suffering from losing his wife and baby 40 years ago in a car crash.
“He said we’re all members of a club that no one wants to belong to,” said Rodrick Thornton, cousin of Leroy Homer, who was the first officer on United Flight 93. “He’s just a regular guy. If you had seen him down there, he was really personal.”
Mr. Biden hinted to his personal trauma when he addressed the families in his speech, stating that whether it was the 10th or 11th anniversary, every September 11 brings back painful memories.
“For no matter how many anniversaries you experience, for at least an instant, the terror of that moment returns, the lingering echo of that phone call, that sense of total disbelief that envelops you, where you feel like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest,” he said.
The “Son of Scranton” told the families he hoped over the years the “depth of your pain recedes and you find comfort, as I have, genuine comfort in recalling his smile, her laugh, their touch.”
After an opening prayer seven family members joined the Rev. Paul Britton, brother of passenger Marion Britton, as they read the names of each of the 40 passengers and crew. In the pause between names, bells of remembrance rang out.
Patrick White, a cousin of Flight 93 passenger Louis J. Nacke II and president of Families of Flight 93, spoke of those heroes’ legacy.
“By selfless example they showed us how to bind together and fight back against mindless terror,” he said.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar pledged to continue to see the memorial through to the end of construction, which is slated for 2016.
“We have more work yet to do to complete this memorial, but I assure you that we will not rest until its [sic] done,” Mr. Salazar said.
As government officials and family members paid respects at the crash site, others lingered at the Wall of Names.
Paul Henderson of Greensburg said he felt a need to visit the memorial Tuesday. He said he’s rarely at a loss for words, but describing the emotions evoked by the ceremony proved difficult.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” he said. “It was very powerful with the ringing of the bells. It was very moving.”
For many the anniversary brings back memories of the moment they learned the country was under attack.
Miriam Daisley was starting her first day as a guidance counselor at St. Andrew Catholic School in Johnstown.
“The world had gone silent and all you could hear were fire trucks and sirens,” she said.
To help students address their feelings, which were originally exhibited through silence, pacing and tears, she wrote a play about the infamous day that they performed a year later.
At the marble slab engraved with Georgine Rose Corrigan’s name, 20-year-old Grant Rodriguez Llera dropped a lei. Ms. Corrigan was an antiques dealer from Honolulu.
Mr. Rodriguez Llera began interviewing the families and researching each of the victims, whom he has no relation to, when he was 14 and published his own book on their lives. Each year he leaves personal effects for each victim along the Wall of Names.
The West Hartford, Conn., native made a paper house with a white picket fence and a for sale sign for Wanda Anita Green, a United flight attendant who planned to retire from her career in the skies and open her own real-estate office.
“A lot of people are afraid to delve into this because of the sadness associated with it,” he said. “It’s important to honor them in a bittersweet way to not allow the sadness to control our interactions with this subject in the same way fear did not control them on the flight.”
Many of the victims’ families find comfort in people like Mr. Rodriguez Llera, who help the memories of their loved ones live on.
“We appreciate everyone that shows up and pays their respects because it shows they care and that’s the amazing thing — they care,” Mr. Bingham said. “They cared on September 11 and they care today.”