Family, friends, strangers honor heroism of Flight 93 passengers, crew |
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American and United Airlines flight attendants wait to board shuttles to the Flight 93 memorial ceremony on Sept. 11, 2018. The group missed the ceremony for the first time in 17 years after the area was locked down due to the president’s arrival.

Family, friends and strangers wishing to pay their respects attended Tuesday’s 17th anniversary observance at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County.

Many wore patriotic colors of red, white and blue, waved American flags, and filmed or photographed the ceremony. Many also stayed afterward, walking the path from the Visitors Center through a quiet field of wildflowers to the Wall of Names below, which lists each of the 40 passengers and crew members who died on 9/11 after battling terrorists who had hijacked their airplane.

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Karen Morrow of New Holland visited the memorial for the first time Tuesday. She left a letter — wrapped in a pink, flowered envelope and decorated with a pink ribbon — wedged between the stone panels etched with the names of her friends Jean and Donald Peterson. Both were passengers on Flight 93.

Morrow said that she was in Bible study with Jean Peterson for three years when she lived in New Jersey. Their children were applying to college at the same time, and the two women would pray together for their success, Morrow said.

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The annual Flight 93 memorial ceremony has become like a family reunion for the family of Deora Bodley, the plane’s youngest passenger at 20 years old.

Christine Abbott, Bodley’s aunt, describes the other Flight 93 families as “a second family.” A photo of Bodley was pinned to her pink rain jacket, along with Tower of Voices pin, white ribbons and a pin worn by the families of those on board Flight 93.

Bodley wasn’t supposed to be on that flight, Abbott said. Her niece flew as a standby passenger after her original flight was grounded.

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Gerald Bingham, father of passenger Mark Bingham, and Joan Burkholtz, cousin of passenger Richard Guadagno, represented family members as a memorial wreath was placed at the wall.

Bingham said he tries to travel from his Plant City, Fla., home to the memorial each year on his son’s birthday, May 22, and on Sept. 11.

He said he found the memorial ceremony, including remarks from President Trump, “interesting.”

“It’s good to have the president here,” he said.

Bingham also praised the community’s residents, many of whom have become family friends over the years.

“There are good people up here. It’s helped us,” he said.

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Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, lost his brother, Edward Felt, aboard Flight 93.

Over 17 years, he says, the families have witnessed “an amazing evolution,” at the memorial site.

“Today we have a complete memorial, with the dedication of the Tower of Voices this past Sunday,” he said.

“I come back this year always with a sense of honor, love for my brother and the 39 other heroes of Flight 93. Certainly a sense of gratefulness to our nation, to all those contributors that helped us complete this memorial, and a sense of relief. We now know that there is a permanent memorial honoring the 40 tremendous heroes, not only as individuals, but honoring their collective actions that were taken that morning Sept. 11, 2001,” Felt said.

He, too, was glad to have President Trump attend “and represent the American people.”

“It was, I thought, a wonderful service this morning, appropriate comments made by all, respectfully. … I was very pleased with today’s ceremony,” Felt said.

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About 150 waited in line just after 8:30 a.m. when buses stopped running from the parking area to the memorial ceremony site. That number grew as the ceremony continued.

The Gilson family of Juniata County was first in line when shuttle service was halted.

“I’m just happy to be here,” said Julie Gilson, who came with her husband and two children, Bethany and Jake.

“Actually seeing it in person is different than seeing it on TV,” Gilson said, explaining that she wants her son — who was born about a year after Sept. 11, 2001 — to learn about history first-hand.

Debi Tate of Clymer said that she always wanted to come out to a ceremony to pay her respects. Like others stuck in the parking lot, Clymer streamed the ceremony on her cellphone. She stood with her hand over her heart as the national anthem played.

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About 30 United and American Airlines pilots and flight attendants from all over the country —Houston, Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and elsewhere — attended the ceremony to pay their respects. A group has come every year since 2001, said Trey Carr, a flight attendant based in El Paso, Texas. Some crew members knew the deceased, he said.

“I think we made a vow that we would never forget and we would honor them as heroes,” said Ken Diaz, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, or AFA, United Chapter.

He saw the crew of United Flight 93 in Newark, N.J., before the plane departed the morning of 9/11. Diaz also lost a cousin, Angel Pena, in the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.

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Cindy Townsend of Apollo arrived Tuesday at the Flight 93 grounds around 8:30 a.m., just as state police were closing the road. She picked up three American and United crew members who were also blocked from entering the national memorial.

“My heart breaks for them, really,” Townsend said.

“I’m sad that we’re not in there for the families,” said Jennifer Woodburn, a flight attendant based in San Francisco. She has come to the Flight 93 memorial for the past five years and said that she wants families to know that their loved ones are not forgotten.

Jamie Martines and Mary Pickels are Tribune-Review staff writers. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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