A visit to National Memorial where Flight 93 went down in Pennsylvania brings home what these American heroes did on 9/11

Last year I took a trip to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  My allergies must have been bothering me because it sure was hard to see everything with my eyes watering.  A single large boulder in the middle of a grass field marks the impact point of United Airlines Flight 93 on that fateful day in 2001.  It really is a national memorial worth visiting.

At 35,000 feet above Ohio, Flight 93 took a sudden drop of roughly 700 feet.   The pilot, Captain Jason Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer were already aware of the potential of hijacking thanks to the cockpit messaging system.  Two minutes after Captain Dahl asked for confirmation of the message, the terrorists attacked.  It was 9:28 am.  The flight crew transmitted a “Mayday” and could be heard fighting back, but tragically, both pilots and a flight attendant were murdered by terrorists using simple boxcutters.

There were only 33 passengers aboard that day, on a long flight bound to San Francisco from Newark.  As the terrorists took the cockpit, all the passengers were herded to the back of the Boeing 757.  Several proceeded to make phone calls to loved ones as the ill-fated jet banked left toward Washington D.C.

The next 30 minutes were remarkable.  The passengers devised a plan and in an act of pure democracy, took a vote to try to retake the cockpit. They were already aware the Twin Towers and Pentagon had been attacked and both pilots were dead at the front of the jet. Passenger Todd Beamer uttered those famous words – “let’s roll.”  Even the female passengers joined in the revolt, one dropping her phone, saying her last words – “Everyone’s running up to first class.  I’ve got to go.  Bye.”

The terrorists began to bank the plane left and right as the attack continued and then began rapid pitching up and down to disrupt the efforts of the passengers. They remained undeterred in their attempt to regain control of the jet. The epic battle continued for five long minutes and the cockpit door was finally breached by the passengers.  At 10:02 the hijackers screamed “Pull it down! Pull it down!” and Flight 93 nose-dived into the field at Shanksville, instantly killing all on board.

Standing as close as I could to the impact point of Flight 93, I reflected on that long day.  Like most in the military, I responded as best I knew how; but my 9/11 story was largely unremarkable.  My time would come a few shorts weeks later in October.  But, I did so willingly, as a volunteer in America’s armed forces.

The heroes of Flight 93, who undoubtedly prevented an attack on either the U.S. Capitol or the White House, started their day as mere unsuspecting passengers bound for San Francisco. In the blink of an eye, they faced surreal circumstances and an instantaneous life-or-death decision. They could have met their demise while cowering in the back of the jet.  Instead, they took a stand and fought to the best of their ability against the terrorists.

Our flag and our National Anthem are symbols of our nation’s history, our beliefs and our struggle to let freedom ring.

I will stand in honor of those brave men and women in New York City, Washington D.C. and especially those heroes aboard Flight 93. They took a stand when they believed they could make a difference.

I will stand to honor those who gave everything in the months and years following 9/11. There is a time and a place for everything; those who wish to politicize this need to think carefully about their words and actions. Kneel if you wish; I fought for your right to do so and while I disagree with you, I will respect your decision. But as for me, I will always stand for those who sacrificed everything.