SHANKSVILLE, Pa. – A decade after 40 passengers and crew died when Flight 93 knifed into a Pennsylvania field, family members grieved and reflected on a sacrifice described by a former president as among the most courageous in U.S. history.
On Sunday, a day after the Flight 93 National Memorial was dedicated with speeches by former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, placed a wreath at the memorial by the 40-panel wall bearing the names of those who died.
Sandra Jamerson, 59, of Antioch, Calif., met the Obamas because her twin sister, Wanda Green, was among the 40 passengers and crew killed when they decided to fight four hijackers for control of the plane during the Sept. 11, 200,1 terrorist attacks. Jamerson attended Saturday's dedication of the national memorial and Sunday's memorial service there to remember the victims.
Jamerson said Saturday's dedication was "very significant because it was an accomplishment because we've waited so long" for the national park.
"Today was more personal," Jamerson said Sunday, adding that she plans to attend a private ceremony Monday at which some remains of the victims will be buried at the crash site while the park remains closed to the public. "It's significant to me primarily because this will be her final resting place."
The family members gave Somerset Coroner Wallace Miller, a local funeral director who has kept custody of the remains, a standing ovation when his work was recognized during Sunday's ceremony. Miller choked up behind dark glasses as he read a tribute to the victims with the refrain, "We Remember Them."
Sunday's event was muted and more somber than the Saturday dedication at which Bush called the passengers' efforts "among the most courageous acts in American history." Clinton also spoke.
The Obamas visited the Wall of Names, where 40 marble slabs inscribed with the name of each victim of Flight 93.
More than 3,000 people, more than half of them regular citizens, stayed after the ceremony and pressed together as the Obamas walked to a security barricade to shake hands and have their pictures taken. Some briefly chanted "USA! USA!" Another man shouted: "Thanks for getting bin Laden!" a reference to the death of Osama bin Laden, killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan earlier this year.
Jaleel Dyson, 18, came to the memorial to honor the victims, but was excited to shake the president's hand and get a picture of him on his smartphone.
Dyson, who is from Washington, D.C., but attends college in the area, said it was "important that the president shows his support for the families that lost loved ones."
The visit came as the families of the 40 passengers and crew were praised for helping to inspire a new generation of Americans while keeping the memories of their loved ones' dedication and courage burning brightly.
John Mulligan, 66, of New York City, the brother-in-law of passenger William Cashman, praised the memorial site as "very nice, very quiet, very peaceful.
"It's so tranquil now it lets you come back to reality," he said. "These 40 people will be remembered forever in the history books. They changed the world."
At the earlier ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks, nearly 5,000 people listened as the names of the passengers and crew who were killed were read aloud while bells tolled. Afterward, a children's choir sang as those in the crowd — including family members, first responders, politicians and more than 1,000 other private citizens — listened intently.
Although the ceremony included a moment of silence at the exact minute three other hijacked planes were crashed that day — two into the World Trade Center towers in New York and a third into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. — the crash of Flight 93 at 10:03 a.m. that same day was not marked by silence at Sunday's memorial, despite a program that listed such a pause. Organizers couldn't immediately explain the change of plans.
"Over the past 10 years we have heard this place compared to many other places" including the Alamo and Gettysburg, Gov. Tom Corbett said at the newly dedicated national park that marks the site where Flight 93 crashed. "But the truth is that this place is like no other because the deeds aboard Flight 93 were like no other."
Corbett said the victims "charted a new course, set a new standard for American bravery."
Sunday's memorial service at the Flight 93 Memorial, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, was being held in concert with ceremonies in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Tom Ridge, Pennsylvania's governor at the time who was then named the nation's first head of homeland security, thanked the regular citizens, many of whom traveled from other states for Sunday's service.
"I think your presence today means almost as much to the families, perhaps as much as the memorial itself," Ridge said. "Your very presence is a powerful message of comfort and understanding and love."
The families then turned and gave the visitors a standing ovation.
Ridge went on to pay tribute to the victims, saying their actions prove "Americans don't live in fear, we live in freedom"
Gordon Felt, brother of passenger Edward and president of the Families of Flight 93, directed some of his comments to the relatives of the other victims.
"I only wish I could have gotten to know each and every one of you under different circumstances," he said. "We lost too much."
Susan Stine, 52, of Tamaqua, Pa., said she has come to the Flight 93 crash site to mark the anniversary each year.
"Everybody was going to New York for the first anniversary and we came here. I can't imagine not being here on 9/11," Stine said.
"I feel differently when I leave here every year," she said. "I feel better in my heart."
U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa, choked up as he spoke about the Wall of Names. Told that the pattern of the wall delineates the flight path of the jet before it crashed, Critz said, "Ten years of emotion came rushing in."
Flight 93 was hijacked after taking off from New Jersey. It crashed after passengers and crew, some alerted by cell phone calls from loved ones about the New York attacks, decided to fight the hijackers. Investigators later determined the hijackers intended to crash it into the Capitol in Washington, D.C., where the House and Senate were in session that morning.
Flight 93 National Memorial: http://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm