Park Ranger Robert Franz (http://nyti.ms/2cdtBSZ) tells the story of Flight 93 to visitors who travel to a site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to learn about the doomed plane and to pay tribute to the passengers and crew who fought to the end. The hijackers likely planned to fly the plane into the Capital in Washington, DC, but instead the plane crashed into the earth near Shanksville, going 563 miles an hour, killing everyone aboard, but sparing the heart of our nation.
Franz tells about the main players, like Todd Beamer, whose final recorded words were “Let’s roll!” giving voice to the group effort that redirected the flight. But he also tells about the less-known ones like Sandy Bradshaw, the flight attendant who called her husband, saying that she was boiling water to throw at the hijackers. He tells about Honor Elizabeth Wainio, who even as she was facing death, called to comfort her stepmother. He explains to visitors that “the crew and passengers put democracy in action,” as they voted to rush the cockpit and get control of the plane.
Franz continues to tell the story—it’s his life’s work—refusing to let these courageous actions be lost from memory, as our nation continues to reel from one tragedy to the next, each new one grabbing the headlines.
After the terrorists took over the cockpit, the passengers and crew made a series of calls—they learned of the hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center, the plane hitting the Pentagon. They realized that they were part of a larger plot against the nation. They wanted to retake control of the plane, wanted to save themselves, yes, but the stakes were higher than the loss of their own lives. These terrorists were after the philosophical and theological container that held the dreams, the aspirations of the American people. They were set on undermining and discrediting the American experiment, the story however imperfect, that was started so many years ago with the American Revolution. The attack was not just on flesh, not just on buildings, but on values.
I am struck as well by the democratic approach and the co-operative effort of the passengers and crew. They related not in a hierarchical way, but horizontally—they knew immediately that “we’re all in this together.” Class distinctions, racial differences, faith stances were given over to one identity—that of human being, a creature of flesh, fragile and subject to all the laws of nature. Their loyalties were to one another and to the ones they loved back at home, hoping and praying. They had nothing to lose, they knew. All that remained was an honorable response to their almost certain end: courage, compassion, duty to their loved ones and to their country. You will not take this from us, they decided. We will fight to the end.