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Vice President Joe Biden quoted a hero of the American Revolutionary War on Saturday while honoring the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93 who died here nearly 10 years ago during the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history.
“If they mean to have a war, let it begin here,” Capt. John Parker said at the Battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775.
“Ordinary citizens will continue to stare down fear and overcome evil,” Biden said. “It should not surprise us that they were heroes.”
An estimated 4,000 people attended, including former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, dignitaries and family members of those who died in the plane crash.
“Ten years ago as we first came to this hallowed ground, we were devastated, nearly broken,” said Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93.
“Our lives had changed in an instant at a time when we least expected the potential for such evil in the world. Today, with the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial, we are assured that the enduing legacy of our loved ones, and their collective actions on Sept. 11, 2001, will be preserved, providing comfort, inspiration and education for future generations.”
Biden told the Families of Flight 93 that no memorial, no words and no acts can fill the void their deaths left in their hearts.
“My prayer for you is that now, 10 years later, their memory brings a smile to your lips and not a tear to your eye,” Biden said.
Since the passengers and crew acted against the terrorists — which ended with the flight crashing in Stonycreek Township — a new generation of warriors has emerged, Biden said.
The 9/11 generation has seen 2.8 million men and women joining the armed forces. Thousands of them have been killed and tens of thousands have been injured. They have continued the war that started in the skies over Somerset County, Biden said.
“Look up at the heavens and know that there is no single tragedy that Americans can’t overcome, no single hardship that we cannot surpass,” he said. “Courage lies in every heart and one day it will be summoned. Forty incredible men and women answered the call. We owe them and we owe you a debt we can never repay. God bless you and our troops.”
Thousands of people rose to their feet to applaud the vice president. Bush also brought people to their feet several times.
Bush said one of the lessons of 9-11 is that evil is real and so is courage. Police and fire fighters in New York rushed into the World Trade Center to rescue people, and more than 400 of them died. Military officers at the Pentagon rescued people after the plane crashed into it. When people on Flight 93 realized that their plane had been hijacked, they accepted the greater responsibility and devised a strategy.
“Our citizens defied their captors by holding a vote,” Bush said. “They called their loved ones to say good-bye and then they acted. With their selfless act, they lived out the words of John 15:13 ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” They proved that love and sacrifice can triumph over evil and hate. Flight 93 was one of the most courageous acts in American history. We have a duty to live our lives in a way that upholds these ideals. Never lose faith in our ability to face challenges together.”
Clinton thanked Bush, Biden, President Barack Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Congress from keeping our nation safe from being attacked again.
His words brought more applause. Noting that he is from Arkansas and Bush was from Texas, he said that every child raised in that region was raised on the memory of the Alma where every person there knew he was going to die.
He invoked the king of Sparta from 2,500 years ago, who, faced with a massive invasion by thousands of soldiers, held them off with 300 soldiers at Thermopylae.
“The enemy said, ‘We will fill the air with so many arrows it will be dark. And the Spartans said, ‘We will fight in the shade. And we will all die.’”
But the difference was that at the Alamo and Thermopylae they were soldiers and they knew what they had to do.
“Your loved ones just happened to be on a plane,” Clinton said. “They gave the entire country an incalculable gift. They saved the terrorists the incalculable victory of smashing the center of American government. And they did it as citizens.”
Clinton said he was appalled that the memorial is not completely funded. He announced he and Boehner had gotten together at the site and agreed to host a joint fund raiser in Washington, D.C. to help close the $10 million gap in the $62 million project.
Members of the National Park Service and Families of Flight 93 unveiled the white marble with the names of each of the passengers and crew. As visitors walked up the plaza, they pass the black memorial walls that frame the sky along the path where Flight 93 flew. The white marble could be seen in the distance.
During the ceremony, Sarah McLachlan played the piano and sang “I Will Remember You” and “On the Wings of An Angel.” Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky read two poems, then read the names of those on the flight, while the bells of remembrance were run.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents who worked the scene of the crash raised a flag at the gathering court that had flown over the Capitol on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Rev. Daniel Coughlin, chaplain of the House, gave the invocation and benediction. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar; Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service; and John Reynolds, chairman of the Flight 93 Advisory Commission, also spoke.
Others attending Saturday’s service here included Laura Bush, the former first lady; Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania; Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and former director of Homeland Security; and Pennsylvania’s two senators, Bob Casey and Patrick J. Toomey.
Earlier in the day, cars sat bumper-to-bumper for miles outside security checkpoints along local roads that ring the 2,200 acre memorial park.
Visitors sat in their cars for more than two hours while officials sorted out the parking situation. The fields intended for parking were soaked by days of rain, and television trucks had already become stuck in the mud. Workers tried laying gravel over the muddy fields, but cars then became stuck in the deep layers of gravel.
Numerous people parked their cars along the entrance roads and walked two or three miles in to the ceremony. The ceremony was postponed for a half hour to allow people to get to the site.
The ceremony gave the public its closest glimpse of the crash site. The actual site, accessible only to family members, is an empty field blanketed by wildflowers at the edge of a forest of hemlocks and maples.
A 17-ton boulder marks the point of impact.
Family members are holding a private funeral service there on Monday to bury three caskets full of unidentified human remains from the crash. The annual commemoration will be held today.