SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush praised the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93 and their families Saturday, dedicating a memorial to the only hijacked aircraft that didn’t reach its intended target on Sept. 11, 2001.
Clinton also announced a fundraising effort to help complete the $62 million project, which still lacks a visitor center and 40 planned memorial tree groves, one for each passenger and crewmember who died.
Clinton said he was “aghast” that the memorial foundation was $10 million short of its fundraising goal. He said that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who also attended, had agreed to mount a bipartisan effort to raise the remaining funds.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” Clinton said, adding in an echo of Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer, “Let’s roll.”
Clinton said when the passengers learned that other hijacked planes had struck the World Trade Center, they made a decision to thwart their hijackers and spared a wounded country even more pain. The likely target was the U.S. Capitol, and the plane was less than 30 minutes’ flying time to Washington when it hurtled into a field at 580 mph.
“They knew what they had to do,” Clinton said. “They gave the entire country an incalculable gift. They saved the terrorists the symbolic victory of smashing into the center of American government.”
Clinton compared the passengers’ heroism to the Spartans who fought to defend Thermopylae from Persians in a storied battle in the 5th century B.C.
“In 2,500 years, I hope and pray to God that people will remember this.”
Bush, who was president on that bright, clear morning 10 years ago, called the actions of passengers on the flight “one of the most courageous acts in American history.”
“They accepted greater responsibility,” Bush said. “The choice they made would cost them their lives, and they knew it.”
At the memorial’s dedication as a National Park, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the site would take its place among historic locations such as Gettysburg, Yorktown and Selma.
“The heroism of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 will live forever,” he said.
A bell rang 40 times, after each of the names of Flight 93’s passengers and crew were read aloud. Bush and Biden and their wives, along with Clinton and Salazar, helped park rangers unveil the “Wall of Names” — white marble panels engraved with the names of each of the 40 passengers.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the families of the 40 passengers and crew.
“I know what it’s like to get that call out of the blue,” said Biden, whose wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident shortly after he won his Senate seat in Delaware in 1972. “We know that no memorial can fill the void they left in your hearts.”
That void was still visible 10 years later on the face of Larry Catuzzi, who lost his daughter, Lauren Grandcolas, on Flight 93.
“I can’t say I’m happy for this day. We can never replace Lauren,” Catuzzi said. “But if it had to happen any place, this is a beautiful piece of property.”
Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., said the beauty of the site belies the violent event that took place here.
“It’s a place of real sadness, but the sadness is tempered by what ordinary Americans did,” he said. “We all hope we could do the same.”
The National Park Service had expected 10,000 people to attend the dedication Saturday, but park rangers estimated the actual turnout at between 15,000 and 20,000. Long lines of cars backed up along the entrance road leading to the site, and on to U.S. 30, the main east-west highway through the area.
Though the day was clear and even a little bit sunny, days of soaking rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee had saturated the ground in southwest Pennsylvania, turning the public parking areas around the site into a muddy mess. Visitors who arrived with clean shoes and clean tires were assured to have mud caked on both.
A few school buses shuttled people from the parking areas to the memorial, but many walked. Few seemed to mind. The event drew people of all ages, from leather-clad bikers to people wearing T-shirts with American flags or the words, “Obama got Osama.” Uniformed police officers, firefighters and Marines dotted the crowd.
Barbara Hansen, Carole Tye and Carolyn Mills, all three retired United flight attendants, came from Chicago.
“This is part of United’s history, and now we want to honor that history,” Hansen said.
Mills said that Clipped Wings, a group of former United attendants, had contributed to the memorial.
Tye used one word to describe her feelings: “Emotional.”
Louis D’Ambrosio, a Korean War veteran from Pine Grove, Pa., came to spread the word about his fundraising effort, and held a letter he planned to give, in person, to former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.
“I’m mad about it,” D’Ambrosio, 77, said about the memorial’s fundraising shortfall.
D’Ambrosio works at Wal-Mart, and said he’s been collecting money for the memorial at his store and two dozen others in Pennsylvania. He wants to take the effort nationwide.
Others came to pay respects to people they knew.
Bob and Lois Hoffman, of Woodstock, N.Y., came in honor of their friend Joe DeLuca, a passenger on Flight 93 who was an usher at their wedding.
Bob Hoffman said he and DeLuca attended college together in the 1960s, after which they got involved in road rallying. Later, DeLuca moved on to showing exotic cars.
“The Sunday before September 11, he won overall for showing his car,” Hoffman said. “It was like a culmination.”
Hoffman said DeLuca was flying out to California that day with his girlfriend, Linda Grounlund, to visit a winery and see the only U.S. dealership for Britain’s Morgan Motor Co.
Hoffman learned five days later from a newspaper article that his friend had been on Flight 93. Later, he and his wife attended a memorial service for DeLuca where he sang the song that goes, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let It begin with me.”
“I knew that was a song that was appropriate for the heroes of Flight 93,” Hoffman said.
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