For Gordon Felt, when the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 fought back on their hijacked plane, they provided the rallying cry for the war against terrorism around the globe.
Felt, the brother of Flight 93 passenger Edward Porter Felt and the president of Families of Flight 93, delivered his remarks Monday during the Flight 93 National Memorial’s 16th anniversary observance of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
In an impassioned speech that drew a standing ovation from the crowd, Felt said the “40 extraordinary individuals” aboard Flight 93 “were lost to a brand of depersonalized violence that has unfortunately moved more toward the norm than at any other period in our lifetimes.”
Felt said: “This seemingly geometric progression of violence directed at governments, but victimizing individual human beings, is abhorrent and affects the innocent with little regard for the dignity and sanctity of life. Because of this, it is critical that we not allow the world to forget the actions taken by our heroes, the innocents that said ‘No more.’ Forty citizens — a spectrum of nationalities, races, religions, political leanings, strangers to one another that morning — forged a bond that recognized evil incarnate and chose to fight.”
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On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, four terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked Flight 93, a cross-country flight from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, and aimed it in the direction of Washington, D.C. — presumably targeting the U.S. Capitol building.
Soon after, the 33 passengers and seven crew members aboard the plane mounted an attempt to break into the cockpit and regain control of the plane, causing the aircraft to crash into a strip mine in rural Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, near the tiny borough of Shanksville.
Three other planes that were hijacked that day reached their targets — the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Nearly 3,000 people were killed.
“They didn’t fight for their religion, their ethnicity, their nationality or their political ideology,” Felt said of the 40 board Flight 93. “They instinctually fought for what was important — to get home to their loved ones. ... They fought because giving in to evil should never be an option.
“While they lost their lives, they won the battle, and for that, we are forever in their debt. Because of the actions of our loved ones, the Capitol Building stands as a beacon of hope for our democracy,” Felt said.
‘Bravery and heroism’
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who also delivered remarks during Monday morning’s observance, said the men and women aboard Flight 93 “performed heroic acts in the face of unthinkable circumstances.”
“Every year when I come here,” Wolf said, “I am again overwhelmed by the story of bravery and heroism that took place in the skies above our commonwealth — and I am continually overwhelmed by the strength of the loved ones I see here.”
Ground was broken Sunday afternoon for the Tower of Voices, a planned 93-foot monument containing 40 massive chimes that Felt said would stand “defiantly” near the memorial’s entrance along U.S. Route 30.
Vice President Mike Pence delivered the event’s keynote address, saying that he was “deeply humbled” to honor the passengers and crew of Flight 93 on what he described as “this most solemn of days.” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke introduced Pence to the crowd.
The ceremony began with the singing of the national anthem by the U.S. Air Force’s Celtic Aire; a welcome by Flight 93 National Memorial Superintendent Stephen Clark; a moment of silence led by Rev. Paul Britton, the brother of passenger Marion R. Britton; and a recitation of the names of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. The reading of each name was accompanied by the tolling of two bells.
Also in attendance and recognized by Clark were U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Everett, U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, and acting National Park Service Director Mike Reynolds.
Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat.