Michelle Obama and Laura Bush commemorate 9/11 at Pa. site of Flight 93 crash
Saturday, September 11, 2010; 1:15 PM
SHANKSVILLE, PA. - First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush marked the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11 with somber words on a windswept hillside overlooking the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93, telling the gathered mourners that out of tragedy came a vivid and inspiring reminder of the American spirit.
"I come here today not just as first lady, I come as an American filled with a sense of awe at the heroism of our fellow citizens," Obama said, in remarks that touched on the personal stories of the victims.
Bush spoke of the good that came that day and the faith that continues to inspire and sustain.
"Nine years ago in the skies above this field and in Washington and in New York City we saw the worst of our enemy and the best of our nation," Bush said. "We saw that there is evil in the world but good at the heart of our country. America was attacked, but the deepest belief of our democracy was vindicated."
Obama and Bush met privately with the families of the 40 victims in a white tent overlooking the crash site as violins played.
About 110 family members gathered with the first ladies and then viewed the site from a hill, in the same spot many stood nine years ago in the hours after the fateful crash watching state police line the ridge on horseback to salute.
A bell tolled 40 times, for each victim, as family members stepped up to a microphone and solemnly called the name of loved ones at 10:03 a.m., the time of the crash.
Work is underway on a memorial, expected to be complete by next year, that will include a pathway tracking the final minutes of the flight and a memorial wall of names.
Some 1,000 people attended the 90-minute ceremony, where Gov. Edward Rendell and Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar spoke. Salazar has visited the site four times and has been instrumental in coordinating the work on the memorial, which when complete will span about 2,000 acres.
"It is my hope that when our children and our grandchildren visit this memorial and when our thoughts go to this particular place, this solemn place for our country, that they too will understand the selfless act of the heroes of 9/11," Salazar said. "That they too will walk the hallowed grounds and feel the power and the resilience of the American spirit."
Already, about 1.4 million people have visited the site in western Pennsylvania.
In brief remarks, Rendell likened the victims of Sept. 11, none of whom were natives of this state, to famous Pennsylvanians who fought for freedom and liberty, saying that like heroes past, "their names became indelibly etched into the history of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
"We will never forget what they did above our skies; we will always remember them," he said.
For Bush, the visit marks her third time spending the anniversary with Flight 93 families. Her first visit came six days after the crash, and she also appeared at the fifth anniversary. In private meetings with the families, Bush introduced Obama to many family members whom she had previously met. Their joint public appearance is the first time the two women have shared a stage since the inauguration.