The Giants of Flight 93 – Plus 19 Years

Today, 9/11/2020, is the nineteenth anniversary of Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Often forgotten or glossed over as time goes on were the actions of the passengers of Flight 93, whose resistance to Al-Qaeda’s suicide-hijacker team brought the plane down in Shanksville, PA rather than Al-Qaeda’s chosen target, saving the lives of other Americans at the price of their own.

On the 2018 anniversary of 9/11/2001, President Trump dedicated the National Park Service memorial to their actions that day.  The NPS has since posted a memorial web page with the recordings of the cockpit flight recorder, cellphone calls from the plane, and court trial evidence including crash photos, here:

Yet for all that, I have not seen anything matching what a friend of mine, Tom Holsinger, wrote about 9/11/2001 and the people on Flight 93 — our fellow citizens who rose up and fought Al Qaeda, when all others, our military, our political leaders, our law enforcement, were frozen in surprise — at the web site in October 2002.  I have not read any written commemoration of their act, before or since, as moving as this passage:

Students of American character should pay close attention to Flight 93. A random sample of American adults was subjected to the highest possible stress and organized themselves in a terribly brief period, without benefit of training or group tradition other than their inherent national consciousness, to foil a well planned and executed terrorist attack. Recordings show the passengers and cabin crew of Flight 93 – ordinary Americans all – exemplified the virtues Americans hold most dear.


Certain death came for them by surprise but they did not panic and instead immediately organized, fought and robbed terror of its victory. They died but were not defeated.


Ordinary Americans confronted by enemies behaved exactly like the citizen-soldiers eulogized in Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture.


Herman Wouk called the heroic sacrifice of the USS Enterprise’s Torpedo 8 squadron at the Battle of Midway “… the soul of America in action.” Flight 93 was the soul of America, and the American people know it. They spontaneously created a shrine at the crash site to express what is in their hearts and minds but not their mouths. They are waiting for a poet. Normally a President fills this role.


But Americans feel it now. They don’t need a government or leader for that, and didn’t to guide their actions on Flight 93, because they really are America. Go to the crash shrine and talk to people there. Something significant resonates through them which is different from, and possibly greater than, the shock of suffering a Pearl Harbor attack at home.


Pearl Harbor remains a useful analogy given Admiral Isokoru Yamamoto’s statement on December 7, 1941 – “I fear we have woken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.” They were giants on Flight 93.


A chainlink fence covered in mementos and flags dedicated to the flight 93 crash

This was the spontaneous memorial wall erected by Americans for the passengers and crew of Flight 93 in a field near Shanksville, PA that Tom Holsinger wrote about above.

15 thoughts on “The Giants of Flight 93 – Plus 19 Years”

  1. I didn’t know what had happened until I finally got home from work and turned on the TV about 9:00. I had seen a notice on a data terminal that trading had been suspended in New York but nothing more. I assumed that there had been a power blackout or something else relatively mundane.

    I’m still not sure where it fits in the bigger picture. We know that Al Qaeda might have spent 2 million dollars and two years in preparation. We now know that was about the sum of it, there was nothing much besides grandiose fantasies in the pipeline from them. Whatever support was given to the Madrid and London bombers was more spiritual than practical.

    Does anybody even know how many trillions we’ve spent in Afghanistan and Iraq? Our Afghan adventure is ending with the realization that there isn’t now, never was and probably never will be an actual country where the map says Afghanistan is. We have managed to turn Iraq from an avaricious dictatorship to an avaricious kleptocracy. Beyond handing over billions of dollars, the actual instigators in Pakistan remain untouched beyond the embarrassment of letting us sneak in and kill Bin Laden, long after he ceased to matter. I was certainly on board at the beginning, it’s too bad the people really in charge didn’t know more than I did.

    Watching the coverage of the day is still too painful to me. I only rarely click through.

  2. The attack on Afghanistan was worthwhile for about 6 months or so. I read “Jawbreaker” which is about the valuable stage of the operation. Once the “Big Army” arrived and told the Special Forces guys to “shave and get into uniform,” the valuable part was over.

    The last 18 years have been trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.

  3. To repeat a phrase I’ve heard a few times this summer, Say Their Names.
    I realized yesterday I can’t remember any of the names of the heroes involved. I had to look them up online to even remember thd name of Todd Beamer. We need to do better.

  4. Yesterday I watched a couple of programs on the History Channel on 9-11 – and each program dealt with a different facet of 9-11. The first was on Air Force One – and the 2nd on United Flight 93.

    I really had some mysteries cleared up watching those. Always wondered how the terrorists could get into the cockpit so quickly..

    It was explained that up to 9-11, there was one key cut for any 757 or 767 lock, and the flight attendants kept one and/or there was a storage locker right outside the cockpit door where a key was kept.

    And overall there were thousands of these identical keys in circulation.

    So the terrorists most likely simply unlocked the doors. Whether they got them from the circulation pool or the locker or F/A was not mentioned.

    One of the young men calling his wife or mother (I was trying to take notes) told her about their plan, but said we won’t attack until we are over a rural area

    The fact that they crashed in Shankesville was not happenstance.

    The target was the Capitol Building, which had at that moment 5,000 people in it. It would have been another catastrophe like the twin towers with 1000s dead.

    They were 125 air miles from DC.

    We really owe a lot to those brave passengers.

  5. Yes jawbreaker and trodpoint, the direct action units that operated with northern alliance members, there is the argument over whether we should have delegated to them. over tora bora, but they knew the territory, its curious how michael scheuer takes credit for many of the things that richard blee, who handled such operations, actually did at ctc specially at the renditions branch, scheuer has subsequently revealed himself as being a bin laden fan boi, not merely an analyst of his movements,

  6. yes the capitol hill charnelhouse could have been very bad, if mohammed al quahtani, had not been turned back at the orlando airport, they might have succeeded, if you consult doughty’s arabia deserta, you get a notion of the tribe from where the highjackers arise, the quahtan, had a particular reputation, think reavers from serenity,

    in afghanistan, there is a similar pecking order, among the tribes, general flynn mapped their demographic overlaps, as part of the preparation of the counterinsurgency strategy, which floundered in part because of the populzai kharzais against say the zadran haqquanis, the latter were handpicked by the isi two generations ago, think of them as the pashtun crowders,

  7. This past 9/11/2020 Pres. Trump made his second appearance at Shanksville to commemorate 9/11/2001.

    This is the transcript of his speech.

    [Transcript] – THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, David, very much. It’s a great honor to be with you.

    Nineteen years ago, on this day, at this very hour, on this field, 40 brave men and women triumphed over terror and gave their lives in defense of our nation. Their names and their stories are forever inscribed on the eternal roll call of American heroes.

    Today, we pay tribute to their sacrifice, and we mourn deeply for the nearly 3,000 precious and beautiful souls who were taken from us on September 11th, 2001.

    To the family members of Flight 93: Today, every heartbeat in America is wedded to yours. Your pain and anguish is the shared grief of our whole nation. The memory of your treasured loved ones will inspire America for all time to come.

    The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall, and fight back.

    To every 9/11 member all across this nation: The First Lady and I come to this hallowed ground deeply aware that we cannot fill the void in your heart or erase the terrible sorrow of this day. The agony renewed, the nightmare relived, the wounds reopened, the last treasured words played over and over again in your minds.

    But while we cannot erase your pain, we can help to shoulder your burden. We promise that unwavering love that you so want and need, support, devotion — and the very special devotion — of all Americans.

    On that September morning, when America was under attack, the battle turned in the skies above this field. Soon after taking off from Newark, New Jersey, radical Islamic terrorists seized control of United 93. Other hijacked planes struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and then the South Tower, and then the Pentagon.

    The terrorists on Flight 93 had a fourth target in mind. It was called: our nation’s capital. They were just 20 minutes away from reaching their sinister objective. The only thing that stood between the enemy and a deadly strike at the heart of American democracy was the courage and resolve of 40 men and women — the amazing passengers and crew of Flight 93.

    Donald and Jean Peterson were grandparents traveling to vacation in California. Deora Bodley was a student headed back to college. Richard Guadagno was returning from celebrating his grandmother’s 100th birthday. Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas was three months pregnant with her first child. Every passenger and crewmember on the plane had a life filled with love and joy, friends and family, radiant hopes and limitless dreams.

    When the plane was hijacked, they called their families and learned that America was also under attack. Then they faced the most fateful moment of their lives.

    Through the heartache and the tears, they prayed to God, they placed their last calls home, they whispered the immortal words, “I love you.” Today, those words ring out across these sacred grounds, and they shine down on us from Heaven above.

    When terrorists raced to destroy the seat of our democracy, the 40 of Flight 93 did the most American of things: They took a vote, and then they acted. Together, they charged the cockpit, they confronted the pure evil, and in their last act on this Earth, they saved our capital.

    In this Pennsylvania field, the 40 intrepid souls of Flight 93 died as true heroes. Their momentous deeds will outlive us all.

    In the days and weeks after 9/11, citizens of all faiths, backgrounds, colors, and creeds came together, prayed together, mourned together, and rebuilt together.

    The song “God Bless America” became a rallying cry for the nation. We were united by our conviction that America was the world’s most exceptional country, blessed with the most incredible heroes, and that this was a land worth defending with our very last breath. It was a unity based on love for our families, care for our neighbors, loyalty to our fellow citizens, pride in our great flag, gratitude for our police and first responders, faith in God, and a refusal to bend our will to the depraved forces of violence, intimidation, oppression, and evil.

    In New York, Arlington, and Shanksville, people raced into the suffocating smoke and rubble. At Ground Zero, the world witnessed the miracle of American courage and sacrifice. As ash rained down, police officers, first responders, and firefighters ran into the fires of hell.

    On that day, more than 400 first responders gave their lives, including 23 New York City police officers, 37 Port Authority workers, and 343 New York City firefighters. Today, we honor their extraordinary sacrifice and every first responder who keeps America safe.

    With us today is David DeMato, a retired Chicago police officer and a current officer of the Navy Reserves. On 9/11, he drove from Chicago to Ground Zero. As David says, “While the sights and smells of working at Ground Zero will forever be etched in my mind, what is more profound is the way this country came together afterwards. The police officers and firemen were revered as the heroes they truly are; the military was appreciated in a manner not seen in decades; and common people found new meaning in values like friendship, kindness, and selflessness.”

    Thank you, David. Such beautiful words. And thank you to every member of law enforcement who risks their lives to ensure our safety and uphold our peace.

    This morning, we also remember the 183 people who were killed in the attack on the Pentagon and the remarkable service members who crawled straight through the raging blaze to rescue their comrades.

    We express our undying loyalty to the nearly 6 million young men and women who have enlisted in the United States armed forces since September 11th, 2001.

    More than 7,000 military heroes have laid down their lives since 9/11 to preserve our freedom. No words can express the summit of their glory or the infinite depth of our gratitude. But we will strive every single day to repay our immeasurable debt and prove worthy of their supreme sacrifice.

    America will never relent in pursuing terrorists that threaten our people. Less than one year ago, American warriors took out the savage killer and leader of ISIS, Al-Baghdadi. Soon after, our warriors ended the brutal reign of the Iranian butcher who murdered thousands of American service members. The world’s top terrorist, Qasem Soleimani, is dead.

    Here in Shanksville, this community locked arms and hearts in the wake of tragedy. With us today is Chuck Wagner, a heavy equipment operator who lives just a few miles away. Very soon after the attack, Chuck helped search for the black box. He was so changed by what he experienced that he joined with several members of his church to become what they call “Ambassadors” for the 40 men and women on Flight 93.

    Chuck and his neighbors learned about each person, cared for their families, and each day, rain or shine, they took shifts standing vigil over their final resting place.

    Long before this place was a national memorial, back when it was marked by a simple wooden cross, Chuck and his fellow Ambassadors were always here waiting to tell visitors about those we lost. Nineteen years later, Chuck says his life is devoted to three things: his family, his church, and preserving the memory of the men and women of Flight 93.

    To Chuck, his wife Jayne — (applause) — thank you very much. Thank you very much. To Chuck and his wife Jayne, thank you so much for being here. And to the over 40 Ambassadors with us today, please stand and receive America’s thanks. And this is a very deep thanks. Please. (Applause.) Thank you very much.

    Also with us is Marine veteran Jason Thomas, from Long Island. On September 11th, Jason had just retired from the Marines. But he immediately put back on his uniform and raced into the nightmare of ash and debris. At Ground Zero, he found a fellow Marine, Dave Karnes. Together, they began to call out: “United States Marines! United States Marines! If you can hear us, yell, tap. Do whatever you can do. We’re the United States Marines.” Soon they heard a shout for help. Two police officers were trapped beneath 20 feet of rubble. Jason and Dave dug for hours on end knowing that, at any moment, the wreckage could come down on them, crushing them alive. At one point, someone told Jason to stop. Jason replied, “I’m a Marine. I don’t go back. I go forward.”

    That day, Jason helped save the lives of those two officers. For years, Jason said nothing about what he did on 9/11. He did not even tell his five children. But when he saw the rescue recounted on TV, he decided to meet those officers. One of them gave him a gift: a steel cross made from a beam that Jason helped lift to free them from the hell on Earth.

    As Jason said about the cross, “It means a lot. It’s a symbol of what we are as Americans. Because that day, we all came together and stood as a nation, as Americans. It didn’t matter what race you were, what religion you were. It didn’t matter. We all came together to help one another. I’d die for this country. I’d die for this country.”

    Jason, thank you very much for bearing witness to the character of our nation. Jason, thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, Jason.

    The men and women of Flight 93 were mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives. Nothing could have prepared them for the dreadful events of that morning. But when the moment came, when history called, they did not hesitate, they did not waver. Forty towering patriots rose up, took charge, made their stand, turned the tide, and changed the course of history forever.

    Our sacred task, our righteous duty, and our solemn pledge is to carry forward the noble legacy of the brave souls who gave their lives for us 19 years ago. In their memory, we resolve to stand united as one American nation, to defend our freedoms, to uphold our values, to love our neighbors, to cherish our country, to care for our communities, to honor our heroes, and to never, ever forget.

    Thank you. God bless you. God bless the heroes of Flight 93. God bless all of the families. 9/11 — we’ll never forget. God bless you all, and God bless America. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

  8. Bill, a great little book I discovered has a minute by minute account of that day but I can’t recall if she mentioned the cockpit keys.

    The book is called “Touching History and is by an airline pilot.

    A friend of mine, a United Captain, told me that later they discovered holes drilled between the forward head and the cockpit.

    In the book she describes a fifth hijack team in Detroit that left without their carry on items when the grounding was ordered. They were never identified.

  9. “our nation’s capital.”
    Should be with an “o”, and capitalized, no?
    (I still think it is quite likely that the plane that hit the Pentagon was actually supposed to hit the White House, based on its flight path.)

  10. Mike

    That is a wonderful book. Two of the things that jumped out at me from it was air traffic control talking to the pilot of united 175 asking if he had any visual ID of American flight 11

    They were in communication and a moment later it went dead

    And of course that was the plane that hit the second tower

    The other thing that I remembered from that book was a probable hijacking that was to leave Newark.

    The pilot saw the first tower burning and at that point in time air traffic control was not aware of a mass hijacking. A flight attendant told the captain while taxing that there were some suspicious passengers all seated together, and that information with the burning tower convinced him to simply tell the passengers we have a mechanical problem and they turned around and taxied back to the terminal.

    The passengers all melted into the terminal and the only unclaimed luggage were a few pieces full of Al-Qaeda material

    That program on the history channel was fascinating to because they brought together all of the principles and either a mother or wife of one of the attackers was told on the phone conversation that they would not attack until they were over a rural area.

    On the program with Air Force One the CIA had told them that they had expected a second wave of attacks.

    And I’ll bet you that decision by that FAA head to ground all flights averted that

  11. The Flight 93 passengers were the ne plus ultra of the concept of the militia in action. They should all be recognized as such, given post hoc military status, and awarded medals. I’d recommend Purple Hearts and Distinguished Flying Crosses for all, and for their leaders (Todd Beamer comes to mind), Air Force Crosses.


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