Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Almost nine years ago, on a bright and beautiful September morning,
the world was changed;
our nation was changed;
we were changed.
It was a day of dark tragedy and destruction. And yet, in the midst of that darkness, a great light emerged. We, the people of the United States, had found our unity. For a few, brief, precious moments in time, our political differences vanished; we stood shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm. We spoke with one voice.
We felt with one heart.
Aboard United Airlines flight 93, a group of strangers also found unity; a unity of purpose. Knowing the risk, they stood together as one and fought back. And by all accounts, they almost succeeded.
The spot of earth where their plane fell almost immediately became a place of honor and pilgrimage, not only for Americans, but people from across the globe.
The Flight 93 Temporary Memorial was thus born, a purely spontaneous expression of sympathy and empathy. This memorial commemorates people from the common walk of life. They might have been strangers we brushed past on the street; neighbors from next door, or perhaps friends. Because of that, people have connected with the passengers and crew in a very personal way. I think all of us now realize that a hero is not always someone famous who walks the halls of power, but more often an ordinary person who saw a task that was greater than their fear.
Seven years ago, another group of strangers sat around this table. They set aside a part of their already busy lives to undertake the mission of establishing a permanent memorial that would carry that memory of courage and sacrifice forward for the benefit of generations yet to come.
It has been a long and difficult path. This group has undertaken enormously complicated jobs, survived a veritable sea of reports, certifications, permits, and complicated land acquisitions. But through it all, they never lost sight of the goal. And today as we meet, earth is being moved, and a memorial is taking shape.
The sunsetting of this task force is a moment of celebration, for it marks a benchmark of completion, and a dream made concrete.
While my knowledge of all that you have done is incomplete, I do know enough. As an American, I am grateful to you. As a Friend of Flight 93, I honor your. And as a man of faith, I thank God you answered the call.
One evening last year, I stood at the peak of a hill called Little Round Top, south of a town called Gettysburg. As I watched the sun set in the west, it was for me a moment of solace and meaning. A young family climbed the hill and stood nearby. Their child asked quietly, “Daddy, what happened here?”
Her father knelt down, put his arm around her, and thus the story of courage and sacrifice was passed to a new generation. Perhaps a hundred years from now, another young family will stand before a circle of sacred ground near Shanksville, and the question will be asked again.
Thanks to the unified acts of strangers who became friends, united by a worthy and noble cause, the answer to that question will always be found in this place.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain said of the battleground of Gettysburg:
“Heroism is latent in every human soul, however humble or unknown.
In great deeds, something abides; on great fields, something stays.
Spirits linger to consecrate the ground.
And reverent men and women from afar,
and generations that know us not
shall come to this field to ponder and to dream.
And the power of the vision will pass into their souls.”
As the sun sets on the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force, it is now for us to join with them; to carry on, to finish the task they so nobly began.
To bring the Dream home.