SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — 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 nation's newest national park.
Former President Bill Clinton likened the actions of those aboard Flight 93 to the defenders of the Alamo in Texas or the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae some 2,500 years ago, with a dramatic and telling difference: "They were soldiers. They knew what they had to do."
The passengers and crew were not, but they gave "the entire country an incalculable gift: They saved the capital from attack," an untold amount of lives and denied al-Qaida the symbolic victory of "smashing the center of American government," Clinton said.
Those aboard knew that it was more than a hijacking, but an opening shot in a new war, Vice President Joe Biden said. He said they acted as citizen patriots have done since Capt. John Parker said in April 1775 that if war is what they want, "then let it begin here."
They were among several speakers at the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial who told of the sacrifice and honor of the passengers and crew. The ceremony drew more than 4,000 people, including hundreds of victims' relatives, to the rural Pennsylvania field where the hijacked plane crashed 10 years ago.
A invocation by the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, who was the U.S. House Chaplain at the time of the attacks, 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, and Grammy Award-winning musician Sarah McLachlan performed.
Earlier Saturday, Bush laid a wreath at the Pentagon, paying tribute to the 184 people killed when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into that building. Today, President Barack Obama is to visit Shanksville during a second ceremony honoring those who were killed on Flight 93. He is also attending events at ground zero and at the Pentagon.
Obama honors war dead, urges unity
Summoning the nation to unity and service, President Barack Obama paid tribute to America's resilience and the sacrifice of its war dead Saturday as the country prepared to mark 10 long years since the horrors of 9/11. A day before the anniversary commemorations, the president visited Arlington National Cemetery, walking with his wife Michelle among graves filled with dead from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. And he invoked the common purpose that arose from carnage a decade ago in telling Americans that the nation cannot be broken by terrorism "no matter what comes our way." Obama also visited a soup kitchen, where he and his family helped prepare trays of gumbo for the needy in the nation's capital, underscoring the call to national service that rang so loudly after the terrorist attacks. Obama said projects to serve the community "are part of what the spirit of remembering 9/11's all about — the country being unified and looking out for one another."
Vigil protests lack of clergy prayer
Carrying Bibles and singing Amazing Grace, a group of pastors knelt on the street outside ground zero on Saturday to protest New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decision not to include a clergy-led prayer in the ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. About 50 pastors and supporters prayed outside the chain-link fence around the site as police and National Guard troops carrying shotguns and combat rifles watched from a distance. Protesters said they felt shut out of today's memorial service. "Many of us served here after the attacks, and we know the importance of prayer and the presence of clergy," said Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical pastor. "To exclude them from the ceremony was hurtful." Thousands of people have signed a petition asking for a formal prayer at today's ceremony, but Bloomberg has said it would be impossible to include all the religious leaders who would like to participate.
Fighter pilot recalls mission to stop plane
Fighter pilot Heather "Lucky" Penney didn't have time to be scared. There was a hijacked commercial airliner headed to Washington, D.C., and she was ordered to stop it. "It's something everyone else would have done if they were in my shoes. I didn't have time to feel fear. We had a mission, and there was a sense of urgency," she said. On Sept. 11, 2001, Penney, of Annapolis, Md., and her commanding officer were ordered to stop United Airlines Flight 93 from hitting a target in the nation's capital. But they didn't have any missiles or even ammunition. So Col. Marc Sasseville decided they would use their own planes to bring it down. He planned to strike the plane's cockpit. She opted to go for its tail, Penney said. She didn't know it at the time, but the plane had already crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Her mission soon changed to helping defend Washington's airspace and escorting Air Force One, with then-President George W. Bush aboard, to Andrews Air Force Base.
Feeling safer, but still wary of attacks
Ten years after Sept. 11, Americans are still walking an emotional tightrope, with increased comfort in the government's antiterrorism efforts but wary that such a catastrophe could happen again. New York Times/CBS News polls and follow-up interviews conducted in August in New York and around the nation found 79 percent of New Yorkers and 83 percent of other Americans believed another attack was possible.