Bell tolls for Flight 93 victims
SHANKSVILLE – Christian Adams.
One by one, the names of the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 were read aloud inside the United Methodist Church in Shanksville.
Outside, a bell tolled for each victim.
Forty names. Forty times the bell sounded.
Families, friends and residents of this tiny Somerset County community packed the small church. It was six months to the day since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the airline flight that ended in an abandoned strip mine in Stonycreek Township.
Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist clerics conducted the 45-minute service in the small-town church that has become a shrine to America’s victims of the war on terrorism.
Flight 93 crashed after four hijackers commandeered the San Francisco-bound jetliner that had departed from Newark, N.J. As the aircraft approached Cleveland, the hijackers stormed the cockpit, changed the headings and directed the jetliner toward Washington, D.C.
Some passengers on the plane telephoned their families just minutes before the crash. Those calls indicated that some passengers may have tried to retake control of the plane before it plunged to the ground.
After Monday’s service, about 300 people gathered at the windswept crash site to dedicate a plaque to the victims. It reads: “This memorial is in memory of the brave men and women who gave their lives to save so many others. Their courage and love of our country will be a source of strength and comfort to our great nation.”
Philomena Nacke, whose son, Louis Nacke II, 42, of New Hope died in the crash, said “my heart is here” in Somerset County.
“This is where I want to be. I’m comfortable here,” she said. “This is where his father and I basically buried our son. This is where we all come back to.”
Nacke, overcome by the cold and her emotions, collapsed into the arms of two state troopers.
They carried her away.
Her son was a warehouse manager for K-B Toys in Clinton, N.J., and was flying to San Francisco on business. He would have celebrated his first wedding anniversary on Sept. 16.
Marci Nacke, the victim’s sister-in-law, said the spot where the plane crashed should be a national memorial site.
“This is hallowed ground. This is where the first battle in the war on terrorism happened,” she said. “It was the battle of Shanksville.”
U.S. Rep. John Murtha of Johnstown said Friday that he will introduce legislation to make the site a national memorial.
Katherine Collis of Newark, N.J., came to remember a friend, Lorraine Bay, 58, of East Windsor, N.J. Bay was a flight attendant and a 37-year veteran of United Airlines.
“This community has shown so much respect for this airplane and to the act. There’s no way to thank them,” Collis said. “They were ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
People lined up outside the church in Shanksville, hoping to get a seat, as reporters and television news crews staked out space inside. A few residents joined photographers who were taking photos and videotaping the event.
The Rev. Ronald Emery, pastor of the church, said the aircraft crashed “literally into our lives and transformed us, reluctantly.”
The Rev. Allen Zeth, pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in nearby New Baltimore, remembered hearing a loud explosion on Sept. 11. About 10 minutes later, a friend called to tell him to turn on the television.
“It started to click,” Zeth told the audience. “I knew what the loud noise was.
“This gave us somewhat of a new relationship with these heroes – who they were and who they still are.”
Their act of bravery in the skies, and their deaths, redefined our role models, he said. It’s not just famous people who make a difference.
“They are heroes. They are also role models. We have become a gentler and kinder nation. We look into each other’s eyes and are thankful.”
Iman Fouad El Bayly of the Islamic Center of Johnstown and Somerset asked people to be tolerant. He said the Muslim extremists who hijacked the plane also hijacked the Islamic faith.
“In the name of God, in the name of peace, in the name of brotherhood, in the name of mankind, let there be peace,” he said. “We cannot condemn a nation, a religion, for the acts of a few.”
Gazarik is a reporter for the Tribune-Review.