The memories of 9/11 are still so chilling and vivid, I can hardly believe we are approaching 20-years from that fateful day.
September 11, 2001, became a glidepath to a new way of life in our country, forever changed. In less than two hours’ time, this seemingly routine day was transformed when 19 terrorists boarded and hijacked four commercial airplanes to attack America.
In Pennsylvania, we have a unique reason to honor this two-decade anniversary. Incredible acts of bravery happened in the skies above us on board United Flight 93. The passengers and crew members made phone calls from the airplane and learned of the three other attack sites. Planes were being used as weapons. With that information, they took a vote and decided as a group to storm the cockpit.
These courageous women and men on board Flight 93 stopped terrorists from reaching their final destination. Nearly 3,000 people were killed when the hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside outside of Shanksville.
Flight 93 did not arrive at the hijackers’ intended target – the U.S. Capitol – because of the selfless and courageous actions of the 40 passengers and crew members on board.
While I can recall so much about Flight 93 and the extraordinary band of relative strangers who put their lives on the line, I know many others do not. Since September 11, 2001, some 75 million young people have been born in our country who have no memory or connection to that day. We must keep our promise to Never Forget. Today’s youth need the rest of us to make sure they understand the sacrifice and heroism 20 years later of those on board Flight 93.
History is defined as a series of past events that are all connected. The 40 passengers and crew members of Flight 93 are part of the continuing American psyche highlighting people who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep our country safe.
I worry that as we get further away from 2001, we will have fewer people aware of this incredible story. We need a concerted effort to make sure that 9/11 and particularly, the Flight 93 story, is part of school curriculum across the country. Students in secondary and higher education need to be taught about the courage and bravery of 40 individuals who changed history.
These were everyday Americans, yet extraordinary people of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences. They knew they were up against incredible odds. But as we know from the 37 phone calls 13 passengers made while huddled in the back of the airplane, they developed a bond and a plan. They were determined to fight back.
The hijackers had carefully plotted out this horrible chain of events. But what they didn’t take into account was the determination and fortitude of the passengers and crew members.
Many people are doing their part to keep this story alive. Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville is an incredible tribute to the 40 heroes where every passenger and crew member is honored. The memorial was built with the support of countless individuals, donors, and foundations. One major supporter was former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. He is another unique part of the 9/11 story as he was at the crash site on September 11. Less than one month later he resigned as governor to serve as our nation’s first Secretary of Homeland Security.
Another way we are keeping the passengers’ and crew members’ acts of bravery in focus is by looking forward and making sure the story of Flight 93 remains relevant, accessible, and inspirational to all Americans, young and old.
The Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, the official non-profit partner to Flight 93 National Memorial, wants to leverage the attention brought by the coming anniversary of 9/11 to encourage conversations about heroism and bravery all across the United States. We are seeking nominations for the first annual Flight 93 Heroes Award. This national award will be presented each year to individuals who have demonstrated remarkable acts of selfless courage in their community, anywhere in America. Nominations can be submitted by visiting www.Flight93Friends.org.
I am honored to be part of the caretaking of the memorial. Every time I visit or volunteer, I think about the men and women who united during a crisis and showed us the true meaning of the spirit of America. That is what I hope we all remember and pass down to our children and grandchildren this September as we mark 20 years since 9/11. This is history that must be told again and again.