(Photo: AP Photo / Gene J. Puskar)
At least for a while, Americans across the nation felt a sense of togetherness in recalling the blows that were dealt to the nation nine years ago and the acts of courage and selflessness that followed within minutes.
“They came from all different backgrounds and all walks of life, and they all took a different path to that September morning,” reminded First Lady Michelle Obama at the memorial ceremony near Shanksville, Pa., the site of the fourth crash from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“But in that awful moment when the facts became clear, and they were called to make an impossible choice, they all found the same resolve. They agreed to the same bold plan,” Obama said, referring to the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93.
While the 42-minute flight delay was not enough for the crew of Flight 93 to secure the cockpit from those who would hijack the plane, it was enough for passengers on board to find out about the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon – which all took place within Flight 93’s first hour of flight – and craft a plan to “rush” the terrorists to keep them from hitting their intended target.
“They called the people they loved –- many of them giving comfort instead of seeking it, explaining they were taking action, and that everything would be okay,” Obama recalled.
“And then they rose as one, they acted as one, and together, they changed history’s course.”
While there is still some uncertainty, it largely believed that the passengers on Flight 93 voted to rush the terrorists and to break into the cockpit, ultimately leading to the plane’s crash 20 minutes away from its intended target, which 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed claims to have been the U.S. Capitol.
Flight 93 was the only aircraft that failed to reach its intended target. American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center within 20 minutes of each other. American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon roughly a half-hour after the second WTC crash.
Flight 93, the last plane, crashed at 10:03 a.m., roughly 80 minutes after the first of four crashes.
“When I was first here, it was a quiet field scarred by a smoldering crater,” recalled former First Lady Laura Bush, who joined First Lady Obama for Saturday’s memorial ceremony.
Nine years later, the gash in the earth left behind by the fourth crash has healed and the site has recaptured its serenity.
“This peaceful place was not chosen by terrorists; it was chosen by the passengers and crew who spared our country from greater horrors,” Bush stated.
And while nine years ago, America saw “the worst of our enemies,” the former first lady said it also saw “the best of our nation.”
“We were reminded there is evil in the world. But in the face of terror, Americans chose to overcome evil,” she stated.
Meanwhile, at the Pentagon Memorial, President Obama again reiterated that Americans “are not – and never will be – at war with Islam.”
“It was not a religion that attacked us that September day - it was al Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation,” the president stated, as anti-Muslim sentiments threatened to mar Saturday’s 9/11 observations.
Obama urged the people of America not to allow “a small band of murders” to “distort” who they are.
“They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice. For Scripture teaches us to ‘get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,’” the president exhorted.
“Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America – those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world,” Obama added.
“Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory. As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.”