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: https://www.nps.gov/flni/learn/historyculture/sources-and-detailed-information.htm
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 strategypage.com 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.