Flight 93 ceremony is a call to serve

By Tom Ridge and Ed Rendell
Saturday, November 7, 2009

Work begins this weekend on one of America's newest national parks. The families of the people aboard Flight 93, which went down in Somerset, Pa., in the Sept. 11 attacks, will gather at the crash site today for the ceremonial groundbreaking.

America's national parks preserve our most sacred natural spaces, such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon, as well as important pieces of our national history such as the battlefields at Gettysburg. Construction of the first phase of the Pennsylvania memorial is scheduled to be completed in time for a dedication ceremony on the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks. The Flight 93 memorial will be the only Sept. 11 site designated as a national park, which means that every citizen will be a part owner and steward of this monument. Since Sept. 11, tremendous work has been done to create this 2,220-acre park. While the memorial is surely important to those who lost loved ones that day, its meaning for the rest of us cannot be understated.

Flight 93 is sometimes eclipsed in our memories of that dark day by the images of the twin towers falling or the dark smoke billowing from the Pentagon. That there are no images of the U.S. Capitol or the White House in flames is most likely a testament to the actions of the people on board Flight 93.

That story of ordinary men and women who took extraordinary action is both quintessentially American and worthy of being preserved as part of our national heritage.

When the individual passengers and crew of Flight 93 woke that morning, they did not know that their flight from Newark would take them on a journey that would unite them forever in our national memory.

But when terrorists took control of their plane, and cellphone calls to family and friends on the ground revealed that their flight was part of a larger plan, these 40 individuals chose to band together, to fight back as one and to put a halt to the terrorists' plans even if it cost them their lives.

The story of Flight 93 is a parable for our times that calls on each of us to be our best selves -- and to value and respect that spark in one another.

These men and women -- young and old; straight and gay; of different racial, religious and political backgrounds -- remind us that the traits and beliefs we all share as Americans are far greater, and far more important, than the petty issues that seem to divide us. Their story calls on each of us, every moment, to engage in the world around us to make things better, rather than to sit idly by.

Creating a national park, a space that stands equal to the great sequoias, the Grand Canyon or the simple grace of the Lincoln Memorial, is no small undertaking. But our nation engages in such developments to help preserve our most important lands and lessons for ourselves and future generations.

We are aware that in these difficult financial times, there is great worry about personal finances, and there are so many worthy causes out there. Yet it is notable that since the Sept. 11 attacks, thousands of people have given large and small gifts to help create the national memorial park at the Flight 93 crash site. So far contributions have equaled about a third of the money needed to complete the memorial. The National Park Foundation and surviving family members are working to raise the remaining funds that are critical to preserving this piece of American history.

Whether by supporting the memorial, getting involved in your community as a volunteer or even helping a neighbor in need, this weekend is a time for all Americans to live the example of the citizens aboard Flight 93.

Tom Ridge, a Republican and former secretary of homeland security, was governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, is governor of Pennsylvania.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company