SHANKSVILLE, Pa. - The 40 passengers and crew who fought back against their hijackers aboard Flight 93 before it crashed on Sept. 11 were honored Saturday for their heroism in a ceremony dedicating the first phase of a memorial at the nation's newest national park.
The hijackers intended to crash the plane in Washington but "never made it because of the determination and valor of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, that plane crashed in this field, less than 20 minutes by air" from the target, said Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service.
Because of their efforts, the terrorists were denied their quarry, he said.
Former President George W. Bush called their actions one of the most courageous acts in U.S. history and a shining example of democracy in action, referring to the group's decision to hold a vote to decide to try to overpower them.
The Rev. Daniel Coughlin, who was the U.S. House Chaplain at the time of the attacks, called the sacrifices made by the passengers and crew "willing seed for freedom's harvest."
"They refused to be paralyzed. ... They break the silence and decidedly act together. They do only what is possible in an impossible situation," he said in the invocation. "Because they are your children, they find within themselves, true freedoms."
Coughlin's invocation was followed by a long moment of silence as the U.S. flag was brought in, then a singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner." The names of the victims were also read as bells tolled.
Poet Robert Pinsky took to the lectern and read a pair of poems, one about "needing to remember, even if you don't want to," and a second about heroism. The poems came from Brazilian Carlos Drummond de Andrade and Poland's Czeslaw Milosz.
The dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial was expected to draw more than 4,000 people, including hundreds of victims' relatives and many dignitaries, to the rural Pennsylvania field where the hijacked plane crashed nearly 10 years ago.
Crowds getting there were slowed by weather-related traffic jams, muddy conditions and security rules but remained undeterred ahead of the ceremony.
Among those who came for the ceremony near Shanksville was Butch Stevens, 69, of Carlyle, Ill., who stopped on his way back from a visit to Washington, D.C.
Stevens said he had no connection to anyone aboard the flight, except, as he said, as an American.
"This kind of makes you realize where you live," Stevens said of the bravery of those who died aboard the plane.
Vice President Joe Biden and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton were among those attending the event one day before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Grammy Award-winning musician Sarah McLachlan was to perform.
The dedication is the day's most prominent Sept. 11 observance among many throughout the country. In New York City, hundreds of families, friends and strangers ringing lower Manhattan clasped hands as a bell clanged at 8:46 a.m. to signify the time the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower. It was one of several public and private events scheduled around the city, including a free performance by the New York Philharmonic and a memorial by Fire Department of New York for its 343 members who died on 9/11 and those who have died from illness after working at ground zero.
In Pennsylvania on Friday, family members of those who died on Flight 93 visited the crash site, read the guestbook and viewed the many mementos left by people from all over the world who have come to pay their respects.
Relatives shed some tears, but they also celebrated the spirit of the guestbook -- a rare feeling that people from vastly different walks of life had come together.
"I don't focus on what happened. You can't change that," said Lorne Lyles, whose wife, CeeCee Ross Lyles, had been working as a United Airlines flight attendant for only nine months on that September morning in 2001.
"Coming here is more of a celebratory thing. She's been memorialized," Lyles said. "Just to see the outpouring from all over the world is touching. You really do have some caring people in the world."
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar spoke at the site Friday. He noted that for all the progress on the memorial, there's still work to be done. When it's finished, it will include a "Tower of Voices" with 40 wind chimes.
Public and private donors have contributed $52 million, but $10 million more is needed to build a true visitors center and to finish landscaping, Salazar said.