SHANKSVILLE, PA. – Public safety personnel were among thousands who turned out Sunday to honor the crew and passengers of Flight 93 who joined forces 10 years ago to fight the terrorists who had taken over the airliner.
A large boulder – barely visible in tall weeds near a grove of pines -- marks the final resting place for the heroes who rushed the cockpit and foiled the plot to strike another building, possibly the White House or Capitol.
Some of those who responded to the call that sunny morning a decade ago returned to pay their respects, saying it was the least they could do to honor the heroes.
Others have visited the site annually.
On Sunday, Jefferson County, W.Va. Sheriff Bob Shirley led a group of motorcyclists from the Eastern Panhandle to Shanksville.
"We come to honor the families and the people who fought back," he said adding that the group consisted of people from all professions.
They've made the ride every year since Flight 93 was brought down by citizens.
Listie Fire Chief Scott Yachere and his son, Assistant Chief Justin Yachere, were aboard the third engine to reach the crash site. They had been dispatched along with Shanksville and others.
“There really wasn’t much for us to do. We could see a lot of smoke as we approached,” the chief said, adding that it was a scene he’ll never forget.
The ground had literally swallowed the jet.
Crews focused on a few brush fires touched off by the crash, and protected a nearby house. Both said there was nothing they could do for those aboard Flight 93.
“The original dispatch was a little confusing,” the assistant chief said, explaining that they were originally told it was a small aircraft down. But as firefighters responded, word came that it was indeed an airliner with possibly 250 souls aboard.
“We just never anticipated that we in rural Somerset County would be involved following a terrorist attack. But, I believe it happened here for a reason. I really do,” the chief said.
Both men said it’s hard to describe their feelings. However, they are pleased with the memorial. As they gazed into the overgrown field where the plane crashed, the chief added: “This is hallowed ground.”
Pittsburgh Firefighter Eric Gartley, who joined other Red Knights and rode his motorcycle to Shanksville on Sunday said he wouldn’t think of being anywhere else. “Some here were involved in the search and recovery. We feel this is the least we can do. We come to honor those who fought terrorism.”
The trek to the memorial site for thousands started in muddy fields. But, they trudged on. Many wore shirts bearing slogans honoring the heroes of Flight 93 or red, white and blue. They carried flags, flowers, balloons and other items that they left at the panels bearing the names of their loved ones.
The memorial wall follows the final flight path of Flight 93. Family members or friends of the passengers and crew read their names during the ceremony Sunday. A bell was tolled for each. As the last hero’s name was read, dark clouds rolled in.
One speaker said the uprising aboard showed that they refused to be victims, and instead, chose to be warriors. “This was just another field until Sept. 11, 2001,” he added.
Josh Stuart, a paramedic with Medical Rescue Team South in Pittsburgh, who attended the ceremony with his daughters, said he was impressed with the memorial so far. “There has been an amazing transformation here.”
At 10:03 a.m. – the time Flight 93 crashed in the rural field – a group of children started signing “America the Beautiful.”
A moment of silence was held earlier in the program.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, visited with family members and placed a wreath at the wall. He spent more than an hour at the site, but did not speak to the public.
Calvin Wilson, brother-in-law of Co-pilot Leroy Homer, went into the crowd to shake hands and thank people for attending.
“People have been so kind. I feel blessed,” he said. “I just needed to tell them I appreciate they came out to honor those aboard Flight 93.”
He added that he also was grateful that former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Vice President Joe Biden attended the dedication of the memorial on Saturday. “I was psyched that out of nowhere President Clinton said he was going to help with raising the rest of the money to complete the project.”
Wilson remembered his brother-in-law as a guy with a dry sense of humor. “I also know that if he saw all of this, he’d say what’s the big deal? Anyone would have done the same thing.”
He said he has visited the actual crash site quite a few times, and is pleased it will remain as-is. Only family members are allowed to visit the final resting place.
On Monday, families will attend a private service, and three caskets containing unidentifiable remains will be buried at the site.
Local firefighters have formed a bond with the families of Flight 93, and hosted a dinner at the Shanksville firehouse on Friday night. “We had over 230 people here,” said Chief Terry Schaffer.
On Saturday, Biden visited the firefighters, spending more than a half hour at the station. Schaffer said he was impressed with the vice president. “He signed autographs and posed for pictures. He also spoke with a group of motorcyclists who happened to be here at the time.”
Schaffer said he was told of the visit five minutes ahead of time. “I asked the Secret Service if they wanted me to close the doors after he came in. They said I didn’t have to. But, we were told not to text or call anyone. And, everyone who was there had to stay.”
Biden was presented with a company patch and a t-shirt.