Vice President Mike Pence returned to the Flight 93 National Memorial outside Shanksville, Pa. Wednesday morning, commemorating the sacrifice of those who died on the aircraft, and promising to continue a “Global War on Terror” that has continued for 18 years since.
“America was attacked on Sept. 11, but America took the fight back to our enemies on that very same day,” Pence told a crowd estimated at several hundred by National Park Service officials. “Not on some foreign battlefield, but right here, in the skies above these fields, where the heroes of Flight 93 were forged.”
Speaking in a plaza just downhill from a wall where the names of victims of Flight 93 are inscribed, Pence noted that a generation had grown up since the 2001 attacks with no direct memory of the events.
“The rest of us, my fellow Americans, must tell the story. We must never forget, and never fail to honor the memory of those who were lost here, in New York City and Washington D.C. … we will tell their story. We will honor their memory, always,” he said. “Americans will ever be inspired by the faithful and courageous words and deeds of the heroes of Flight 93.”
Pence, and his wife Karen, laid a wreath with family members at the Wall of Names shortly after his 25-minute speech.
The ceremony took place at the crash site of United Flight 93, a Boeing 757 on its way from Newark, N.J. to San Francisco when it was hijacked by terrorists. It’s believed the terrorists planned to strike Washington D.C., but passengers tried to retake control of the aircraft. The plane crashed instead. All 40 passengers and crew were killed, along with the terrorists.
In all, 2,977 people were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks targeting Washington and New York City, making it the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
The 18th anniversary of those attacks took place against a backdrop of uncertainty about the direction of U.S. foreign policy in the “War on Terror” and other fronts.
Wednesday’s ceremony took place days after President Donald Trump stirred controversy by saying that he had planned, and then cancelled, peace talks at Camp David with the members of the Taliban, who had hosted the Sept. 11 plotters in Afghanistan. The ensuing war has lasted for 18 years, making it America’s longest armed engagement. The departure of National Security Advisor John Bolton, a hawk who had numerous policy differences with the President, was announced the day before the memorial.
Pence maintained that American resolve was undiminished, and that the Administration would give U.S. troops all the resources they needed. “We did not start this war. We did not seek it,” he said. “But in every year that’s passed, our armed forces have taken the fight to the enemy on our terms, on their soil.” And while terror threats remained, “I can assure you that under this commander-in-chief, our armed forces will never relent until the earth is scourged” of terrorists.
For the most part, political divisions were held at bay on Wednesday. The Rev. Paul Britton, brother of passenger Marion Britton, said that although the passengers were strangers, "a family was born, a community founded" in the moments before the struggle and ensuing crash. "Their miracle is our possibility,” he said. “Their 18 years ago is our today, and tomorrow."
Author and former Boston Globe journalist Mitchell Zuckoff struck a similar note, contrasting the passengers’ willingness to come together with a divided political moment. He noted that passengers had taken a vote about storming the cockpit. “How American is that?” he asked. “Facing an existential crisis, they decided to take a vote on the response. ... We know they answered the call, 'Let's roll.'"
Pence spoke at Sept. 11 ceremonies at the Flight 93 site two years ago, where he noted that the sacrifice of those aboard was "personal.” He was a first-term Congressman at the time, and said the aircraft, had it reached D.C., “might have struck the U.S. Capitol itself."
*This story was updated to include Vice President Mike Pence's comments at the Flight 93 National Memorial Wednesday.