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Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Later Ground Zero & The Pentagon Hallowed Ground of Flight 93

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 September 11, 2001 was a beautiful late summer day in Texas.  The skies were blue and there was not a cloud was in the sky.  My husband and I learned of the first plane crashing into the first World Trade Center Tower as we were leaving our home. Shortly after watcing just a few snippets of the news, my husband drove me to work.  As we entered the plaza where I worked, the second commercial airliner crashed into the second World Trade Center Tower.

Neither of us even at that early moment thought for a minute that this was pilot error made by a pilot of a United States commercial Airlines.
My husband and I looked at one another and in that moment we both realized the United States was under attack, and though as yet although undeclared, we knew  that the United States was under attack and that the United States was at war.

During my work day, as I sat at my desk with my ear buds on listening to the radio, I found it hard to concentrate as I listened to  the horrifying events of the day unfold.

When I returned home and turned on my television I was shocked and jolted by the video of people leaping to their death from the World Trade Center, the devastation, in disbelief and beyond stunned as I watched the film of the two World Trade Centers collapsing to the ground.  I was deeply saddened at the loss of innocent life, and overwhelmed by the heroism of first responders at Ground Zero and at the Pentagon.

My anger boiled over as I watched the coverage of the fall of the two towers, the gaping smouldering hole in the Pentagon and the tragic news of flight 93.

And I wept. 

2,819 lost their lives in the attacks of America on 9/11, in New York City, New York, at the Pentagon in Arlington Virginia , and in Shanksville Pennsylvania.

Each year as September 11th approaches I am drawn back to those powerful emotions.

Each year I watch all the coverage, of the memorial services.

And today, 10 years later today is another beautiful September day in Texas.  I find myself drawn to watch the memorial services that are aired on my flat screen.   My mood is somber, pensive, poignant.   I am 
immediately pulled back to clearly the most significant tragic historical event of my life.

As the time has passed, my heartbreak has not diminished, and I pray for the families that lost loved ones on September 11, 2001, and for the families who have lost a husband, a wife a son, a daughter, for those who have lost a friend as a result of their service in the United States Armed forces in our War on Terror.

Yesterday I watched the Dedication of the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville Pennsylvania, and I wept at as I watched and listened to the beautiful and eloquent speeches from President George W Bush, President William Jefferson Clinton, and Vice President Biden I was struck once again by the greatness of America.

As I struggle to find words to honor the events of 9/11, I realize this is not the only blog this year that will be written by countless others.  I also acknowledge that  my efforts clearly pale in the eloquence of the the text of the following three speeches from the Flight 93 Dedication Memorial Services in Shanksville yesterday, September the 10, 2011.

May God bless America, and may God wrap his loving arms around all those who have lost a loved one in America's War on Terror.

"Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. Mr. Vice President, Dr. Biden, President Clinton, Mr. Speaker, Members of Congress. My friends Tommy Franks and Tom Ridge, thank you for helping raise the money for this memorial. Members of the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, and all those who supported this memorial — but most importantly the families of Flight 93 — Laura and I are honored to join you in dedicating this memorial to the heroes of Flight 93.

When the sun rose in the Pennsylvania sky ten years ago tomorrow, it was a peaceful September morning. By the time it set, nearly 3,000 people were gone — the most lives lost on American soil in a single day since the Battle of Antietam.

With the distance of a decade, 9/11 can feel like part of a different era. But for the families of the men and women stolen, some of whom have joined us today, that day will never feel like history. The memory of that morning is fresh, and so is the pain. America shares your grief. We pray for your comfort. And we honor your loved ones.

On September 11, 2001, innocent men and women went to work at the World Trade Center, reported for duty at the Pentagon, and boarded American Flights 11 and 77, and United Flights 93 and 175. They did nothing to provoke or deserve the deliberate act of murder that Al Qaeda carried out.

One of the lessons of 9/11 is that evil is real, and so is courage. When the planes struck the World Trade Center, firefighters and police officers charged up the stairs, into the flames. As the towers neared collapse, they continued the rescue. Ultimately, more than 400 police officers and firefighters gave their lives. Among them was the chief of the New York City Fire Department, Pete Ganci. As a colleague put it, “He would never ask anyone to do something he didn’t do himself.”

At the Pentagon, service members and civilians pulled friends and strangers from burning rubble. One Special Forces soldier recalls “reaching through a cloud of smoke” in search of the wounded. As he entered one room, he prayed to find someone alive. He discovered a severely burned woman and carried her to safety. They later met in the hospital, where she explained that she had been praying for rescue. She called him her “guardian angel.”

Then there is the extraordinary story we commemorate here. Aboard United Airlines Flight 93 were college students from California, an ironworker from New Jersey, veterans of the Korean War and World War Two, citizens of Germany and Japan, and a pilot who had rearranged his schedule so that he could take his wife on vacation to celebrate their anniversary. When the passengers and crew realized the plane had been hijacked, they reported the news calmly. When they learned that terrorists had crashed other planes into targets on the ground, they accepted greater responsibilities. In the back of the cabin, the passengers gathered to devise a strategy. At the moment America’s democracy was under attack, our citizens defied their captors by holding a vote. The choice they made would cost them their lives. And they knew it.

Many passengers called their loved ones to say goodbye, then hung up to perform their final act. One said, “They’re getting ready to break into the cockpit. I have to go. I love you.” Another said, “It’s up to us. I think we can do it.” In one of the most stirring accounts, Todd Beamer, a father of two with a pregnant wife at home in New Jersey, asked the airphone operator to join him in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Then he helped lead the charge to the front of the plane with two words: “Let’s Roll.” With their selfless act, the men and women who stormed the cockpit lived out the words, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

And with their brave decision, they launched the first counteroffensive of the war on terror. The most likely target of the hijacked plane was the United States Capitol. We will never know how many innocent people might have been lost. But we do know this: Americans are alive today because the passengers and crew of Flight 93 chose to act, and this Nation will be forever grateful.

The 40 souls who perished with the plane left a great deal behind. They left spouses, children, and grandchildren who miss them dearly. They left successful businesses, promising careers, and a lifetime of dreams that they will never have the chance to fulfill. And they left something else: a legacy of bravery and selflessness that will always inspire America. For generations, people will study the story of Flight 93. They will learn that individual choices make a difference, that love and sacrifice can triumph over evil and hate, and that what happened above this Pennsylvania field ranks among the most courageous acts in American history.

The memorial we dedicate today will ensure that our nation always remembers those lost here on 9/11 . But we have a duty beyond memory. We have a duty beyond honoring. We have a duty to live our lives in a way that upholds the ideals for which the men and women gave their lives – to build a living memorial to their courage and sacrifice.

First, we have a duty to find common purpose as a nation. In the days after 9/11, the response came like a single hand over a single heart. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle gathered on the steps outside the Capitol and sang, “God Bless America.” Neighbors reached out to neighbors of all backgrounds and beliefs. In the past decade, our country has been tested – by natural disaster, economic turmoil, and anxieties about challenges at home and abroad. There have been spirited debates along the way. That is the essence of democracy. But Americans have never been defined by our disagreements. Whatever challenges we face today and in the future, we must never lose faith in our ability to meet them together. And we must never allow our differences to harden into divisions.

Second, we have a duty to remain engaged in the world. 9/11 proved that the conditions in a country on the other side of the world can have an impact on our own streets. It may be tempting to think that it does not matter what happens to a villager in Afghanistan or a child in Africa. But the temptation of isolation is deadly wrong. A world of oppression and anger and resentment will be a source of never-ending violence and threats. A world of dignity and liberty and hope will be safer and better for all. And the surest way to move toward that vision is for the United States of America to lead the cause of freedom.

Finally, we each have a duty to serve a cause larger than ourselves. The passengers aboard Flight 93 set an example that inspires us all. Many have followed their path of service by donating blood, mentoring a child, or volunteering in desperate corners of the Earth. Some have devoted their careers to analyzing intelligence, protecting our borders, or securing our skies. Others have made the noble choice to defend our nation in battle. For ten years, our troops have risked and given their lives to prevent our enemies from attacking America again. They have kept us safe, they have made us proud, and they have upheld the spirit of service shown by the passengers of Flight 93.

Many years ago in 1863, another President came to dedicate a memorial site in this state. He told his audience that “in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground,” for the brave souls who struggled there had “consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” He added that “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

So it is with Flight 93. For as long as this memorial stands, we will remember what the men and women aboard that plane did here. We will pay tribute to the courage they showed, the sacrifice they made, and the lives they spared. And the United States of America will never forget.

May God bless you all, and may God bless our country."

President Clinton's Flight 93 Dedication Memorial Speech, on September, 10, 2011:

"Before President Bush came up to speak, I asked him if he was having a hard time. And he said I was doing fine until I looked at you, all of you. Last night, Hillary came home after spending a day in New York. And her eyes were red because 10 years ago she was the senator representing those 343 firemen and nearly 900 people from Cantor Fitzgerald who died and all the others. As we remember what happened at the -- in New York, at the Pentagon, and here, all the rest of us have to honor those who were lost, to thank those who love them for keeping their memory alive, raising their children, and finding the strength to go on with your own lives.

I think we should also thank President Bush and those who served with him, Vice President Biden, President Obama, those who served with them, for keeping us from being attacked again. I thank them for that.

Speaker Boehner, I thank you and the members of Congress who are here and who have been in the Congress for the last 10 years trying to respond to the findings of the 9/11 commission and improve our ability to secure our homeland.

But here in this place we honor something more. I was very moved as you were when President Bush calmly recounted the facts of what happened with your loved ones over this field a decade ago. There has always been a special place in the common memory for people who deliberately, knowingly, certainly laid down their lives for other people to live.

President Bush is from Texas, and I sometimes think because I grew up in Arkansas that's the more important difference between us than our partisan differences.

CLINTON: But every child I grew up with was raised on a memory of the Alamo, the defining story of Texas. Why? Because those people knew they were going to die. But the time they bought and the casualties they inflicted in the cause of freedom allowed the whole idea of Texas to survive. And those who live there now to enjoy the life they do.

The first such great story I have been able to find that reminds me of all your loved ones, however, occurred almost 2,500 years ago. When the Greek king of Sparta facing a massive, massive Persian army took 300 of his finest soldiers to a narrow pass called Thermopylae. There were thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people. They all knew they were going to die. He told them that when they went. And the enemy said we're going to fill the air with so many arrows that it will be dark. And the Spartans said, fine, we will fight in the shade. And they all died.

But the casualties they took and the time they bought saved the people they loved. This is something different. For at the Alamo and at Thermopylae, they were soldiers, they knew what they had to do. Your loved ones just happen to be on a plane.

With almost no time to decide, they gave the entire country an incalculable gift. They saved the capitol from attack. They saved God knows how many lives. They saved the terrorists from claiming the symbolic victory of smashing the center of American government. And they did it as citizens.

They allowed us to survive as a country that could fight terror and still maintain liberty and still welcome people from all over the world from every religion and race and culture as long as they shared our values, because ordinary people given no time at all to decide did the right thing. And 2,500 years from now, I hope and pray to God that people will still remember this.

So, since I am no longer in office, I can do unpopular things.

CLINTON: I told the secretary of the interior, the head of your development program, that I was aghast to find out that we still need to raise $10 million to finish this place. And Speaker Boehner and I have already volunteered to do a bipartisan event in Washington.

Let's get this show on the road. Let's roll. Thank you and God bless you."

"Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Americans, I’m honored to be standing here today, standing with two former Presidents.

President Clinton, as he said, the passengers on Flight 93 knew that our common humanity is what united us most. Well, Mr. President, the same can be said of you. You spent your time as President, and the years since, deeply committed to embracing and strengthening our common humanity.  And, Mr. President, we all thank you for what you’ve done and what you continue to do.

Let me also recognize a man responsible for bringing our country together at a time when it could have been torn apart, for making it clear that America could not be brought to her knees, and helping us stand tall and strike back -- President George W. Bush. (Applause.) In the darkest hour of our generation, your voice and leadership, Mr. President, helped us find our way. And for that, you deserve our gratitude for a long, long time.

And I say now to the families that are gathered here today, I know what it’s like to receive that call out of the blue, like a bolt out of the blue. And I know this is a bittersweet moment for you. And I want to tell you, you have a lot more courage than I had. You have a lot more courage just by being here today, because I know, and many others know, how hard it is to relive these moments, because it brings everything back in stark, stark relief and stark detail.

But I also know, like your loved ones, what you probably don’t know, that you are literally an inspiration to the thousands of people across this country who right now are feeling the loss of an intense tragedy that they’re suffering. They know, looking at you, watching you on television today, that there’s hope to be found after tragedy, that there’s rebirth in the face of death. You, in a sense, are as courageous as your family members were. And we owe you all for being here today, just the act of being here.

We’re here today to remember and honor 40 men and women who gave their lives so others could live theirs -- decent, honorable women and men who never imagined 10 years ago tomorrow that when they said goodbye to their children, when they kissed their loved ones goodbye and walked through that door, that they were doing it for the very last time.

They didn’t know the horror that awaited them, but they confronted unimaginable fear and terror with a courage that has been summoned only by the truest and the rarest of American heroes -- 40 names etched on each of those panels on the wall, the Wall of Names. But, more than that, their names are going to be, as President Bush said, etched forever into American history. They join an incredibly elite list of women and men, and a long history filled with ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things -- men and women of undaunted courage, uncommon resolve, and a stubborn perseverance in the face of unfathomable challenge.

We teach our children that these are qualities ingrained into our national character as Americans. And I believe they are. They animate our national identity. And I believe they will continue to define America, because of the example of the men and women who we pay tribute today, the passengers and the crew of Flight 93.

None of them asked for what happened. They didn’t go on that plane -- they didn’t board that plane to fight a war. But when they heard the news, when they found out what happened in New York, they knew that they were going through, it was something more than a hijacking. They knew it was the opening shot in a new war.

And so, they acted. They acted as citizen patriots have acted since the beginning of our country. They stood up and they stood their ground. They thought, like Captain Parker said at Lexington, and I quote him, “If they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

As many times as I recall, and all of you who are not family members like me, have recalled this incident time and again over the last 10 years, I never fail to be astonished, literally astonished by the courage they demonstrated.

And so, we stand where it began. We think of them. We think of our nation. We think of our history and we think of the future. And we think of it, because of them, with a confidence knowing that ordinary citizens will continue to stare down fear, overwhelm evil, and bring forth hope from what seems to be none. And although it will continue to amaze us and inspire us when it happens, it should not surprise us. For that heroism is who we are. And that courage lies deepest and beats loudest in the heart of this nation.

We know that these 40 men and women were more than ordinary Americans to all of you sitting in front of me. They were more than passengers and crews. They were already heroes. They were already heroes to you.

They were the father that tucked you in bed at night. They were the wife who knew your fears before you even expressed them. They were the brother who lifted you up. They were the daughter who made you laugh. They were the son who made you proud. They are irreplaceable. I know that. We know that.

And we know, and I know, that no memorial -- no words, no acts -- can fill the void that they left in your hearts. My prayer for you is that 10 years later, their memory is able to bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. And I hope you take comfort in knowing that a grateful nation understands that your loved ones gave their lives in pursuit of the noblest of earthly goals: defending their country, defending their families, sacrificing their lives so we could live ours. Those of us who were in Washington that day, without knowing it for sure at the time, now know we owe them an overwhelming special, personal debt of gratitude.

The collective spirit of your mother, your father, your brother, your husband, your wife, your sister, your best friend -- that spirit lives on not only in you, but in your country. It lives on in the Cross of Steel made from the World Trade Center beams, placed on a Pentagon-shaped platform that rests proudly outside the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department.  That Cross of Steel is an enduring symbol of the steel and the spine of this region, and the spine of this country.

And it definitely lives on in a new generation of warriors -- the 9/11 Generation, inspired by what happened here, 2.8 million young Americans since 9/11, that 9/11 generation, have joined the United States Armed Forces -- thousands giving their lives and tens of thousands being wounded to finish the war that began right here.

Maya Angelou wrote, and I quote, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived. However, if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Ladies and gentlemen -- we are not here to unlive history. We are here to honor those whose courage made history and is going to inspire generations of Americans to come.

So, I say to you, even as we struggle with this tragedy, even as we grapple with the profound loss and devastating grief, we can look up at the heavens and think of these heroes and know, know with certitude that there is not a single, solitary tragedy that America cannot overcome. There is not a single moment of hardship that cannot be transformed into one of national strength. The seeds of doubt, planted by those who wish to harm us, will instead grow into flowering meadows like this one where we stand in today, for they cannot defeat the American spirit. We know this with certainty. We know it with certainty, because it’s the history of the journey of this country at every stage of our history.

As President Clinton knows, my mother used to say, “Courage lies in every heart.” And she would go on to say, “And the expectation is that, Joey, one day it will be summoned.” “Courage lies in every heart, and one day it will be summoned.” On September 11, 2001, at 9:57 a.m., it was summoned and 40 incredible men and women answered the call. They gave their lives and, in doing so, gave this country a new life.

We owe them. We owe you a debt we can never repay. Thank you all. Thank you, family members. And may God bless you. And may God protect our troops.

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