Flight 93 National Memorial
Sept. 11, 2015
Good morning. Governor Wolf, Director Jarvis, former Governor and former Secretary Ridge, Senators Johnson, Carper, distinguished guests and most of all Mr. Felt and the other family members of those who died on United Flight 93.
Fourteen years ago today, at 8:42 a.m. United 93 took off from Newark International Airport. For those onboard, and for all of us, it was a typical Tuesday morning – except it was a picture perfect weather day all along the East Coast.
Four minutes later, the tranquility of that day was shattered by the terrible sight of a jet crashing into the World Trade Center. By the time both towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed, our Nation was forever scarred. And it was out of that dark and horrible day that the Department of Homeland Security was born.
Like many Americans I have vivid recollections of that day, which happens to be my birthday. I was at work in Manhattan that day. Jim Miklaszewski, who will speak after me, was at work at the Pentagon that day. And, as many of us in those first few minutes and hours were focused on New York and Washington, D.C., we did not know what was happening on United Flight 93.
Brought together by nothing more than happenstance – missed flights, unexpected work trips, family vacations – the forty passengers on United 93 represented a mosaic of life experiences.
Once on United 93 and once it was hijacked, however, those differences ceased to matter. Through a series of hushed and hurried phone calls, these people learned the true nature of the hijackers’ mission. Armed with this information, the passengers did the most American of things – they took a vote. They voted to fight back – no matter the cost.
They knew what they had to do, and they knew they faced long odds. And so they made calls to loved ones to say goodbye. Their last words were both inspiring and devastating, heartwarming and heartbreaking. In her final moments, Elizabeth Wainio thought not of herself but of her family: She called her stepmother and told her: “It hurts me that it’s going to be so much harder for you than it is for me.”
Todd Beamer’s Airfone account wasn’t working, so he ended up speaking to a supervisor at a call center in Illinois. Though they were complete strangers, together they recited the 23rd Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
And then, with the iconic words “Let’s Roll,” the passengers of Flight 93 stormed the cockpit, altered the course of history that day, and most likely saved hundreds or thousands of lives by losing their own.
The terrorists who attacked us struck at what they believed were symbols of American power. In New York, our economic strength; in Arlington, our military strength. But they were mistaken. The true strength of this Nation lies not in the steel and cement of an office building, but in the strength, determination, and resilience of the American people themselves.
I have said many times that terrorism cannot prevail among a Nation of people who refuse to be terrorized. Just days after 9/11, thousands of people returned to work in lower Manhattan. The very next day after the attack on the Pentagon, my former colleagues in the Office of the General Counsel of the Air Force were back at their desks in the E and D rings. Scores of young Americans were inspired by the attacks to join the military. After the 23,000-runner Boston Marathon of 2013 was devastated by a bomb, 36,000 runners signed up for the Boston Marathon of 2014. One of those runners said something that captured the essence of the character of Americans: “We are dreamers, fighters, and champions. We fall, endure pain, and get back up again. We support one another, cheer each other on, and most importantly, we never give up.”
Today’s service, the memorial here, and the new visitor center dedicated yesterday, all remind us of the personal loss suffered at this place. But in this country, out of tragedies such as this are also reminders of renewal, re-dedication, and a reminder of who we are as a Nation of people who are strong, proud, courageous, and free.
Thank you very much.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson participates in the annual September 11 Observance ceremony with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, Families of Flight 93 President Gordon Felt, and NBC News Chief Pentagon Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski to honor the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93. (Photo credit: Barry Bahler, DHS)