Rumsfeld Pays Respects to Flight 93 Heroes at Pennsylvania Crash Site
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SHANKSVILLE, Pa., Mar. 27, 2006 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today paid respects to the 40 passengers and crewmembers killed here when they struggled against terrorist hijackers and crashed on Sept. 11, 2001. He declared their heroic effort a turning point in the war on terror.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld lays a wreath at the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., March 27. A memorial is being built to commemorate the victims who lost their lives overtaking a terrorist hijacked airplane and saving the plane from continuing its mission on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"This is where America really started to fight back," Rumsfeld said of the passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93, who attempted to reclaim their hijacked Boeing 757 before it could strike Washington, D.C.
"It's where a group of seemingly ordinary airline passengers gave their lives in extraordinary defense (from) foreign hijackers and in defense of our country's capital," the secretary told students at the Army War College, at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., later in the day.
Rumsfeld described the Shanksville site by comparing it to how the fields of Gettysburg may have looked to the Union cavalry. "Empty, ordinary at a first glance, not a place one would expect to find heroism particularly or even history," he said.
And appropriately so, he said. "The passengers on Flight 93 did not think of themselves as heroes or history makers when they boarded that plane on a Tuesday morning en route to San Francisco," Rumsfeld told the Army War College audience.
"And undoubtedly (they) never heard of a place called Shanksville or a man named Mohammed Atta," he said. "And they never expected to be saying into their telephones and airphones that the plane's been hijacked or calling to say goodbye or the final comment, 'Let's roll.'"
But that all changed as the events of Sept. 11 unfolded. "On that day, the terrorists brought their fight to our shores and to our people," Rumsfeld said. "And at Shanksville, Pennsyvlania, over that quiet field, Americans began to fight back."
The secretary today paid tribute to the heroes who began that fight, laying a wreath and pausing for reflection at the crash site. He also visited a temporary memorial to the victims, leaving his official secretary of defense coin alongside other tokens of remembrance left by the 150,000 who visit each year.
"This is a battlefield," Joanna Hanley from the National Park Service, superintendent of the Flight 93 memorial, told Rumsfeld as she led him through the area.
She described plans for a permanent memorial to be built at the crash site so future generations will remember its significance. The memorial will include a visitor center, wetlands and 40 memorial groves, all leading toward what Hanley described as the "sacred ground" of the crash site. The $57 million project, which will include $30 million in private funding, is expected to begin in 2008 and to open in 2011, she said. Some $7.5 million in private funding has already been raised.
While focusing on Flight 93, the memorial will also tell the stories of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Hanley said, "because you can't understand Flight 93 without the rest of the story."
"It's a labor of love for all of us," Hanley said of the project, which Rumsfeld described as "truly impressive."
Ken Nacke, whose brother, Louis Nacke II, died in the crash, told Rumsfeld he draws strength from the site and the outpouring of support he and other Flight 93 families receive from the community. "They have truly opened their arms here," he said. "It shows you what America is truly about."
Nacke said he comes to the site often and can almost visualize his brother and the other Flight 93 passengers walking out of the line of hemlocks at the crash site. "This is where my brother is -- his memory and his spirit," he said.
Nacke thanked Rumsfeld for visiting the site and honoring those who died here. "You are continuing their fight," he said.
The visit took on a personal tone for Rumsfeld, who was in the Pentagon when terrorists slammed into it on Sept. 11 and personally helped evacuate some of the injured. In a hastily called news conference just hours after the attack, he said, "There is no question but that the attack ... today was a vicious, a well-coordinated, massive attack against the United States of America."
The following day, Rumsfeld sent a videotaped message to all members of the Defense Department, expressing condolences and acknowledging the huge task ahead. "It is my duty as head of this department to tell you that more, much more will be asked of you in the weeks and months ahead," he said. "This is especially true of those who are in the field.
"The task of vanquishing these terrible enemies and protecting the American people and the cause of human freedom will fall to you: the men and women of the Department of Defense," he said. "I know we are ready. I know America can continue to count on your selflessness and courage and dedication to duty."
Rumsfeld issued a message that day that he repeats often as he visits servicemembers around the world. He urged them to "stay the course in the challenging days ahead" and assured them, "The nation stands behind you."