Remarks by the Vice President at the Flight 93 Memorial Remembrance Ceremony
Flight 93 National Memorial
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Governor Wolf, Secretary Zinke, Congressman Shuster, Congressman Rothfus, Superintendent Clark, distinguished guests, but most of all, to the family members of the heroes who perished in this very field, Reverend Britton, Gordy Felt, and all of those who join us and look on today, we are deeply humbled to join you on this most solemn of days, at this Flight 93 Memorial Annual Remembrance Ceremony at this “common field one day” that became “a field of honor forever.”
President Donald Trump asked me to be here -- to pay a debt of honor to the 40 heroes of Flight 93, to all the fallen, and their families, and to the generation of heroes they inspired, and to tell you that his heart is here in Pennsylvania, especially with all of you who lost loved ones 16 years ago.
Our President observed this day of remembrance at the Pentagon Memorial, where moments ago he paid tribute to the 184 men and women who lost their lives there.
All of our hearts, as well, are with the families of 2,753 men and women, their families who lost their lives at the World Trade Center in New York City.
As the President said just a few moments ago, we grieve “with every family of the innocent souls who were murdered by terrorists” that day, and we will never forget what happened on September 11th, 2001.
Today, we pause as a nation not so much to remember tragedy, as to celebrate heroism and patriotism.
But permit me to say that on this day, as Gordy said before, our hearts and our prayers are also with our fellow Americans in Florida and throughout the region who’ve suffered loss in the winds and waters of Hurricane Irma.
At this very hour, first responders and new citizen heroes are being forged among the people of Florida. And as the President has said, I say again, to those affected by Hurricane Irma: We are with you, we will stay with you, and we will be with you every day after this tempest passes -- to restore, recover, and rebuild. (Applause.)
Everyone remembers where they were on this day 16 years ago -- a mom rousing her children to get ready for school; a farmer wrapping up the morning chores; a coal miner finishing the third shift and heading home. As a new member of Congress, I was going through my normal workday routine at the United States Capitol when I learned of the attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon.
I will always remember the scenes of that day, watching the Capitol complex being evacuated. It was as though the building was literally hemorrhaging with people running in every direction.
I found myself just across the street from the U.S. Capitol eventually, on the top floor of the headquarters of the Capitol Police Chief. I was there with leaders of the House and Senate.
Shortly I arrived, the chief of police set the phone back down and informed the leaders gathered there that there was a plane inbound to the Capitol, and he said it was “12 minutes out.”
In that moment, the room became silent. And as people began to make plans, I found myself looking out the window, where just across the street was the Capitol Dome with that majestic Statue of Freedom standing atop it; the dome that's a symbol of the ideals of this nation -- of freedom and democracy for all the world.
So we waited. It was the longest 12 minutes of my life. But it turned to 13 minutes, then 14, and then we were informed that the plane had gone down in a field in Pennsylvania.
In the days ahead like every American, we would learn the story of the 40 heroes of Flight 93 -- men and women who looked evil squarely in the eye and without regard to their personal safety, they rushed forward to save lives.
They were mothers and fathers. Your brothers and sisters, sons and daughters -- from every walk of life, of every background. Mark Bingham was on his way to be an usher in his college friend’s wedding. CeeCee Lyles was living her childhood dream to be a flight attendant, in the wake of a career in law enforcement. Lauren Grandcolas carried the spark of life within her, an unborn child three months along. And Bill Cashman, himself a former Army paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, had actually helped build the World Trade Center with his own two hands. And there so many others whose names we just heard echo into the wind this morning.
They were ordinary people, but on that day, they became extraordinary. We all know the story. Flight 93 took off at 8:42 a.m., departing Newark to San Francisco, when 46 minutes later, terrorists seized control.
At 9:35 a.m., the plane diverted toward Washington, D.C.; the passengers called their loved only to find out what was happening across the country. They learned what the rest of America knew: The World Trade Center had been struck, the Pentagon had been hit only a few moments after they were hijacked. They figured out that the terrorists intended to use their plane for the same purpose.
But as Tom Burnett told his wife, on the phone, “We’re going to do something.” And they did.
The men and women of Flight 93 began to join together. They devised a plan in those short moments. They knew their objective. And they not only planned, but history records that they prayed. Together with Lisa Jefferson, a phone operator on the ground below, we're told they prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and recited those ancient words -- “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
At 9:57 a.m., after only 29 minutes, Todd Beamer spoke those words that America and the world will never forget: “Let’s roll.”
They charged the cockpit. They took hold of their fate, and six minutes later, at 10:03 a.m., Flight 93 plummeted here to the Earth. The brave men and women aboard sacrificed their lives for the country we call home.
We gather here today because the men and women of Flight 93 are heroes, and this beautiful memorial stands as a testament to the American people’s undying reverence for their service and sacrifice.
Each of their 40 names are etched into this marble. They’re carved into the memory of the American people, as well, even as they're seared into the hearts of you that were left behind.
The Bible tells us that “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted,” and to the families of the fallen here, that will be our prayer for you today.
You honor us by your presence. And as the President said this morning, “You honor our heroes, you renew our courage, and you strengthen us all.”
Today as a nation, we mourn with you. We remember with you. And we look forward to the day when we will hear the chimes in this place, in the Tower of Voices, that will turn the whisper of the wind into a heroic call-to-action. It will remember them and echo across this field and across America for generations to come.
At 93 feet, that Tower of Voices that will be completed by this time next year will honor the heroes of Flight 93, and that soaring structure will hold 40 chimes, each with a different musical note, to symbolize the voices of the 40 men and women we remember today.
The notes when played together, I’m told, will form a perfect harmony -- just as, in their final moments, the men and women of Flight 93 worked together to defend freedom.
The American people will forever be inspired by their courage and resolve. We honor them by remembering them. And we honor them by ensuring that we do all in our power as a nation to prevent such evil from ever reaching our shores again.
As President Trump has reminded us -- (applause) -- as the President has reminded us, we are in the midst of a war between good and evil. And the first battle in that war took place in the skies above us and ended in this grassy meadow.
We cannot hallow this place beyond what the heroes of Flight 93 have already done. When the plane went down, the heroes aboard it were the first of a new generation of Americans to rise up, as citizen soldiers, in what would come to be known as the Global War on Terror.
It is remarkable to think that, in the wake of their service and sacrifice, America itself experienced a rebirth -- a rebirth of unity, of purpose, and a rededication to our most sacred ideal of freedom.
And every day, for 16 years, their actions have inspired many more of our fellow citizens to stand up, to step forward, and follow in their heroic service.
The President said today, “America cannot be intimidated.” And in the aftermath of September 11th, we've seen tens of thousands of Americans step forward to serve their communities and protect our families and defend our freedom.
They've donned the uniform of first responders, firefighters, police officers -- and more than 5 million Americans have stepped forward to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States of America since September 11th. (Applause.)
These men and women turned what was a day of tragedy into a triumph of freedom, as our nation rallied together and charged forward to meet the enemy on our terms, on their soil.
And we will always cherish the memory of the nearly 7,000 Americans who have given their lives on the field of battle since that day 16 years ago, today. Like the heroes of Flight 93, we will never forget their service, their sacrifice, or the families they left behind.
But we must remind ourselves on this solemn day of remembrance that the threat remains. And even now, the menace of global terrorism brings violence across the wider world to places like London and Paris and Barcelona.
In Iraq and Syria, the barbarians known as ISIS continue to plot attacks against America, against our allies, and all who cherish freedom.
But under the leadership of President Donald Trump, as our Commander-in-Chief, our armed forces have ISIS on the run in Iraq and Syria, and we will not rest or relent until we hunt down and destroy them at their source. (Applause.)
And we also do well to remember that the perpetrators of 9/11 organized and orchestrated their attacks from a safe haven of Afghanistan. And just a few short weeks ago, President Trump renewed our commitment to see the fight in Afghanistan through to an honorable and enduring outcome that will be worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made. (Applause.)
Some four weeks ago, President Trump expressed the full commitment of the United States to, in his words, “destroy terrorist organizations and the radical ideology that drives them.” And so we will.
America will remain engaged in Afghanistan until we eliminate the terrorist threat to our homeland and our people once and for all. We have made great gains, our resolve is stronger than ever, and I promise you, together, as one nation and one people, we will drive the cancer of terrorism from the face of the Earth. (Applause.)
We fight because our families deserve to live in safety and security. We fight because our fallen heroes demand justice. And so long as we have strength, we will honor their memories and do right by the people and the nation they died to defend.
So I'm here on behalf of our President and all the American people to pay a debt of honor -- a debt of honor to the heroes of Flight 93, a debt of honor to a generation of heroes that have followed their inspiring example, in and out of uniform, at home and abroad.
But I'm also here to pay a debt of gratitude to the heroes of Flight 93 on a much more personal basis; for their actions, on that day, in these skies, saved American lives. And as my wife, Karen, who joins me here today knows, it's a debt I don't think I'll ever be able to repay. Because among the many lives that were saved by their selfless courage, they might well have saved my own life that day, 16 years ago.
You know, this isn't our first time standing in this field, here in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Not more than a year after that fateful day, Karen and I brought our three small children here -- to this hallowed ground -- on a drive back from Washington to Indiana.
That day, we did not find this extraordinary memorial. We found only a makeshift memorial; no more than a plywood wall, painted with the names of the fallen, a timeline, and a wooden cross out in the field.
It was that day, with the help of a park ranger that I learned personally of the sequence of events of that day. I asked her: If the U.S. Capitol was, in fact, the target, at what time would the plane have reached the Capitol building?
And what she told me I’ll never forget -- for at the time she said, standing with hundreds of others, I was standing near the East Front of the House of Representatives. I will always believe that I, and many others in our nation’s capital, were able to go home that day to hug our families because of the courage and selflessness of the heroes of Flight 93.
So for me, it's personal. And I speak on behalf of a grateful nation. But thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking on behalf of my little family as well.
When heroes fall, the nation mourns, for “no greater love has a man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.”
To the families of the fallen, as President Trump promised this morning I say now, the memory of your loved ones will never die. They will always be with us. Their heroic story in our minds, our hearts, enshrined in the memory of this country.
As long as America endures, we will tell their story and generations of Americans will ever be inspired by the faithful and courageous words and deeds of the heroes of Flight 93.
May God bless our beloved fallen. May God bless and comfort the families gathered here, and all those who suffered loss on this day 16 years ago. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)