SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Ceremonies in New York City, Washington, D.C., and a western Pennsylvania field are a reminder that the nation hasn’t forgotten the victims of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history or their families, Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday.
“We wish we weren’t here. We wish we didn’t have to be here. We wish we didn’t have to commemorate any of this,” Biden told relatives and guests at the memorial for United Airlines Flight 93, the jet on which passengers fought hijackers for control before it crashed near Shanksville.
The passage of time has not dimmed the memories of those lost, nor the impact felt by their families.
“Today is just as monumental a day for all of you, for each of your families, as any Sept. 11 has ever been,” he said.
Biden participated in a wreath-laying at the memorial about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. The names of the 40 passengers and crew were read aloud at 10:03 a.m. — the moment the airplane crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. Investigators later determined the four terrorists aboard planned to pilot the airliner to Washington, D.C., where another airplane crashed into the Pentagon.
“I also hope it continues to give you some solace that this nation, that all of the people who are gathered here today, that they have not forgotten,” Biden said.
Bells of remembrance were rung by surviving family members and community members who became involved in the aftermath of the crash.
Eleven years after the attacks, the Flight 93 memorial remains unfinished. Among projects still incomplete are an educational center and a 93-foot tower with a wind chime for each passenger and crew member.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the goal is for the memorial to be complete by the 15th anniversary.
King Laughlin, vice president of the Flight 93 National Memorial Campaign, said about $5 million more is needed to finish the work. Federal and state governments already have contributed $36 million, with about $30 million more coming from private donors.
Biden’s brief remarks to the crowd in Shanksville were a contrast to the events at the World Trade Center site in New York, where politicians were not invited.
Gordon Felt, whose brother Edward was one of the Flight 93 passengers, said it was important for Biden and Salazar to attend because it’s symbolic of the government’s — and the American people’s — view of the seriousness of the anniversary.
“I think that we’re always concerned that Sept. 11 not be used for political purposes and in listening to all the remarks made here I think, once again, we realize this is apolitical,” he said.
“This is something that since Sept. 11, 2001, that has united Americans. And I think as we look back in our memories, we remain united.”
About 150 family members and invited guests were joined by hundreds of other attendees who began arriving after dawn, some from the rural community now inextricably tied to the events of the day and others making longer trips to pay their respects.
“Every 9/11 I come out to one of the sites,” said Robert Hamel, 55, of El Segundo, Calif., wearing a black shirt with the image of the World Trade Center towers on it. Hamel spent the 10th anniversary last year at the New York City ceremony and plans to visit the Pentagon for next year’s anniversary.
Don Hillegass, 63, last attended the anniversary ceremony two years ago. The crash site is about 15 miles from his home in the tiny hamlet of Manns Choice.
“It was a situation that happened close to us and is near and dear to the hearts of those in the surrounding area as well as the rest of the country,” Hillegass said.
His neighbor, Thomas Fair, 53, was milking cows on his farm when he saw the smoke rising from the wreckage over a nearby hillside.
“I had some noisy equipment running, but my neighbors, they actually heard the noise, the boom of the crash. I seen the World Trade Center falling on TV and seen this live. It makes you think,” Fair said.
“I still wonder how someone could be so hateful and do that to someone else,” Hillegass said. “It was kind of an eerie feeling that day.”