Flight 93 passengers, crew remembered as individuals in 9/11 ceremony

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STONYCREEK, Pa. -- Passengers and crew members aboard United Flight 93 did not know they would become heroes when they took off for San Francisco, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday.

Their response on Sept. 11, 2001, saved many lives as they fought hijackers who had taken over their airplane and planned to crash it somewhere in Washington, D.C., she said.

Ms. Jewell spoke at the Flight 93 commemoration near Shanksville in Somerset County, marking the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City, at the Pentagon outside Washington and in the sky over Pennsylvania.

Two sailors from the crew of the USS Somerset, Chief Petty Officer Latresha Williams and Petty Officer 3rd Class Audri Quinlan, rang bells as each of the 40 passengers' and crew members' names was read aloud. The readers were family members and volunteer ambassadors who greet visitors at the new Flight 93 National Memorial where Wednesday's remembrance ceremony took place.

About 500 people attended the event. Similar commemorations took place in New York City and Washington, D.C., where on Sept. 11 passenger planes piloted by terrorists hit the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon.

In Washington, President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, walked out to the White House's South Lawn for a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. -- the time the first plane struck the World Trade Center's south tower. Another jetliner struck the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., at 9:37 a.m.

"Our hearts still ache for the futures snatched away, the lives that might have been," Mr. Obama said.

In New York, loved ones milled around the memorial site where the World Trade Center stood, making rubbings of names, placing flowers and weeping, arm-in-arm. As was the case last year, no politicians spoke at the Manhattan remembrance.

In rural Somerset County, the recitation of the 40 names -- from Christian Adams to Deborah Jacobs Welsh -- started shortly before 10 a.m. Their plane crashed in Stonycreek at 10:03.

People aboard the plane are credited with stopping what would have been a second terrorist attack on Washington. The aircraft went down as some passengers and crew battled the four hijackers who had taken control of the plane. The White House and the Capitol were the al-Qaida terrorists' likely targets.

Ms. Jewell also took part Tuesday in the groundbreaking for a new visitors center and learning center at the 2,300-acre memorial.

The $60 million project, which is administered by the National Park Service, is being built with the aid of more than $40 million in private funds. That fundraising goal was reached earlier this week by the National Park Foundation, the official charity of the national parks.

Already completed at the site are new roads, 40 tree groves that honor each of the passengers and crew, the Memorial Plaza and Wall of Names. The money also will be used to construct the new 6,800-square-foot visitor center, which is scheduled to open in 2015, and an education center.

Design work on a 93-foot-tall Tower of Voices will begin later this year, according to Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of the Flight 93 National Memorial. Once that work ends, a new booster organization, the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, will do some fundraising to help finance that element of the project, he said.

Other speakers at Wednesday's commemoration included Brent Glass, a member of the Flight 93 National Memorial Federal Advisory Commission, and Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93.

When passengers and crew aboard Flight 93 realized that their aircraft had been commandeered by terrorists on a suicide mission, "they drew on their American heritage to turn that airplane into a flying meeting house," Mr. Glass said. They agreed on a response and then acted collectively, he said.

"In 22 minutes our loved ones made history," Mr. Felt said. "Generations of visitors will be inspired by the heroic actions of our loved ones."

His brother, Edward Porter Felt, a computer engineer, was a passenger on the plane.

President George W. Bush signed the Flight 93 National Memorial Act on Sept. 24, 2002, creating a new national park. The crash scene in Stonycreek, however, was already a place of pilgrimage. Visitors brought thousands of mementos to the site in the years before the first phase of the permanent memorial was dedicated. That happened in 2011.

About 300,000 visitors come annually, even though the memorial has not been completed, Ms. Jewell said.

"I plan on coming here every year that I am able," Richard Palaski, 66, said. A retired state trooper, Mr. Palaski grew up on Pittsburgh's South Side. He now lives in Homer City.

Twelve years ago, he was part of the law enforcement contingent sent to Stonycreek after Flight 93 went down. Memories of that day have stayed fresh in his mind, he said.

Younger participants in Wednesday's event included Jillian Sobrino and Hannah Neal, both 14, who came with 26 of their classmates and six adults from Charles Town, W.Va. Two years ago, when they were in seventh grade, they organized a "93 cents for Flight 93" fundraising effort to help finance the memorial. The Charles Town students were among the 110,000 individuals, groups, foundations and corporations that contributed to the effort.

They and their classmates sold T-shirts and collected 93 cents from each person who signed a school banner that was presented Wednesday to the National Park Service.

The teens said they raised $2,000 as of Wednesday.

Sailors from the USS Somerset were selected to ring the "bells of remembrance" during the ceremony because their ship is the third naval vessel named in honor of the people killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The other two ships are the USS New York and the USS Arlington.

The Flight 93 National Memorial is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Oct. 31 and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting Nov. 1.

More information about the memorial is available at www.nps.gov.

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Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184. First Published September 11, 2013 3:00 PM


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