STONYCREEK, Pa. — Stopping to pay his respects at the Flight 93 National Memorial between visits to New York City and the Pentagon, President Joe Biden walked the Wall of Names on Saturday and went out into the fields to see the final resting place of the 40 passengers and crew who fought back against hijackers two decades ago and forced the plane down.
Biden arrived shortly before 12:30 p.m., and, with first lady Jill Biden by his side, took a slow stroll through Memorial Plaza, at one point putting his arm around Gordon Felt, whose brother died on Flight 93.
The president’s visit marks the end of private proceedings at the memorial on Saturday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The morning ceremony featured remarks from Vice President Kamala Harris and former President George W. Bush.
Speaking to hundreds of family members and friends of the 40 passengers and crew, Bush said we learned on 9/11 that Americans were vulnerable but not fragile, and that they “possess a core of strength that survives the worst that life could bring.”
“Twenty years ago, terrorists chose a random group of Americans on a routine flight to be collateral damage in a spectacular act of terror,” Bush said. “The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In a sense, they stood in for us all.”
Bush said in the aftermath of America’s darkest day, when nativism could have stirred violence against people perceived as outsiders, Americans welcome refugees. At a time when bigotry could have “flowed freely,” Americans rejected prejudice and embraced people of the Muslim faith, he said. That’s the country he knows, he said — the “truest version of ourselves.”
Bush said the actions of an enemy revealed “the spirit of the people.”
“Here the intended target became the instruments of rescue,” Bush said of Flight 93, “and many who are now alive owe a vast unconscious debt to the defiance displayed in the skies above this field.”
This was Bush's first extensive public speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
In a speech that centered on the future of America and its adherence to the ideals the 40 passengers and crew members fought for, Harris said in the face of uncertainty, “it will take all of going forth to work together” as a nation to face challenges.
“If we do the hard work of working together as Americans, if we remain united in purpose, we will be prepared for whatever comes next,” Harris said. “The 40 passengers and crew members of Flight 93 — as we all know — didn’t know each other. Most of them didn’t know each other. They were different people from different places.”
“They were on that particular flight for different reasons. But they did not focus on what may separate us. No. They focused on what we all share -- the humanity we all share.
In remarks, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf praised the “extraordinary acts of bravery and compassion committed by ordinary people” 20 years ago, when passengers and crew fought back against hijackers and forced the plane down here in the fields.
Wolf, delivering remarks before Bush and Harris, said the story of Flight 93 should serve as a reminder of what it means to be an American.
“In times of strife, we Americans come together. We comfort each other. We protect each other. And we stand up for each other,” Wolf said, adding that on the darkest day, the 40 passengers and crew “brought light in that darkness.”
The sprawling landscape of the memorial here is serving as the backdrop today for hundreds of family members who are honoring their loved ones who sacrificed their lives two decades ago to thwart another terror attack on 9/11.
The annual observance ceremony — meant to honor the 40 passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93 who banded together to fight back against hijackers — started at 9:45 a.m. at the Memorial Plaza. The event is closed to the public but open to families of Flight 93 victims, invited guests and dignitaries.
The ceremony began with welcome remarks from memorial Superintendent Stephen Clark and a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by the United States Marine Band. Then, after an invocation and moment of remembrance, the architect of the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 read the names of the 40 while two first responders rang the Bells of Remembrance. This started at 10:03 a.m., the exact moment Flight 93 crashed in 2001.
“As they boarded their aircraft in Newark 20 years ago today, these 40 individuals never imagined the challenge they were about to face,” Clark told the crowd. “In a moment’s time, their journey to San Francisco became a harrowing test of their strength and courage. Passengers and crew members of Flight 93 met this test as heroes and literally changed the course of history.”
Ringing the bells, one by one as the names were read, were Kevin Huszek and Christian Boyd, two members of an ambulance crew in Somerset that was first on the scene on 9/11. Assisting with the reading of the names was Alan Hantman, the architect of the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 who recently told the Los Angeles Times that he isn’t sure people can imagine “what could have happened if these heroes had not done what they did.”