SHANKSVILLE, Pennsylvania (AP) — The 40 passengers and crew who fought back against their hijackers aboard Flight 93 on Sept. 11 performed one of the most courageous acts in U.S. history, former President George W. Bush said Saturday at a ceremony dedicating the first phase of a memorial at the newest U.S. national park.
The hijackers intended to crash the plane in Washington but “never made it because of the determination and valor of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, that plane crashed in this field, less than 20 minutes by air” from the target, said Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service.
Because of their efforts, the terrorists were denied their quarry, he said.
Bush also pointed to what he called a shining example of democracy in action, referring to the group’s decision to hold a vote to decide to try to overpower the hijackers.
The Rev. Daniel Coughlin, who was the U.S. House Chaplain at the time of the attacks, called the sacrifices made by the passengers and crew “willing seed for freedom’s harvest.”
“They refused to be paralyzed. … They break the silence and decidedly act together. They do only what is possible in an impossible situation,” he said in the invocation. “Because they are your children, they find within themselves, true freedoms.”
Coughlin’s invocation was followed by a long moment of silence as the U.S. flag was brought in, then a singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The names of the victims were also read as bells tolled.
Poet Robert Pinsky took to the lectern and read a pair of poems, one about “needing to remember, even if you don’t want to,” and a second about heroism. The poems came from Brazilian Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Poland’s Czeslaw Milosz.
During the ceremony, former President Bill Clinton announced that he and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner will mount a bipartisan effort to raise the remaining $10 million needed to completely fund the Flight 93 National Memorial. Clinton also praised those aboard the plane as heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial drew more than 4,000 people, including hundreds of victims’ relatives, to the rural Pennsylvania field where the hijacked plane crashed nearly 10 years ago.
Crowds getting there were slowed by weather-related traffic jams, muddy conditions and security rules but remained undeterred ahead of the ceremony.
Among those who came for the ceremony near Shanksville was Butch Stevens, 69, of Carlyle, Illinois, who stopped on his way back from a visit to Washington, D.C.
Stevens said he had no connection to anyone aboard the flight, except, as he said, as an American.
“This kind of makes you realize where you live,” Stevens said of the bravery of those who died aboard the plane.