"So for me, it's personal," Vice President Mike Pence said Monday at the annual ceremony in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, commemorating the loss of 40 passengers and crew who perished aboard "Let's Roll" United Flight 93.
Pence said he was there to "pay a debt of honor to the 40 heroes of Flight 93" who rose up against the four hijackers and tried to take back the plane. The target of the hijackers was the U.S. Capitol.
He told the story of how he was a freshman Republican Representative from Indiana when the House and Senate were evacuated after the first planes hit the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan, and American Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon.
"I found myself just across the street from the U.S. Capitol eventually, on the top floor of the headquarters of the Capitol Police Chief. I was there with leaders of the House and Senate," Pence said.
The police chief was on the phone. He put the phone down "and informed the leaders gathered there that there was a plane inbound to the Capitol, and he said it was '12 minutes out.' So we waited. It was the longest 12 minutes of my life."
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"But it turned to 13 minutes, then 14, and then we were informed that the plane had gone down in a field in Pennsylvania." During those minutes, passenger Tom Burnett phoned his wife and said "We're going to do something."
At 9:57 a.m., on Sept. 11, 2001, passenger Todd Beamer "spoke those words that America and the world will never forget -- 'Let's roll.' They charged the cockpit. They took hold of their fate, and six minutes later, at 10:03 a.m., Flight 93 plummeted here to the earth. The brave men and women aboard sacrificed their lives for the country we call home," Pence said.
Pence grew emotional before the audience of family members and friends. "I will always believe that I, and many others in our nation's capital, were able to go home that day to hug our families because of the courage and selflessness of the heroes of Flight 93," he said.
The ceremony marked the final stages of the $46 million effort to transform the rural Pennsylvania crash site into a national memorial park.
"Ground was broken Sunday on the final element of the Flight 93 National Memorial -- a 93-foot tall Tower of Voices. The tower, to be built near the park's entrance, will feature 40 tubular metal wind chimes, one each for the victims.
The passengers of Flight 93 "turned what was a day of tragedy into a triumph of freedom, as our nation rallied together and charged forward to meet the enemy on our terms, on their soil," Pence said.
"And we will always cherish the memory of the nearly 7,000 Americans who have given their lives on the field of battle since that day 16 years ago," he said. "Like the heroes of Flight 93, we will never forget their service, their sacrifice, or the families they left behind."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.