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Honoring Flight 93

The heroes of Flight 93 died protecting America. They deserve more than a highway and a plaque.

11:00 PM, Mar 27, 2002 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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I HAD FRIENDS visiting from out of town last weekend and I gave them the grand tour of D.C. I showed them RFK stadium, St. Matthew's Cathedral, and the Mall. And as we drove past the Capitol I paused, as I always do when I look up at the rotunda these days, and said a small prayer of thanks to the heroes of Flight 93.

Of course you remember Flight 93, the 757 bound for San Francisco that terrorists hijacked on September 11. It was coming toward Washington that morning and in my heart of hearts I feel certain it was meant for our Capitol. I can't imagine what the city would be like today if they had succeeded. The hit to the Pentagon was awful and nearly unbearable, but the Pentagon is largely hidden from view. Not the Capitol. It stands high and proud and can be seen from miles away. More than any other building in America, more than the White House, even, it is the symbol of our democratic experiment. Its destruction could have been a knock-out punch.

But the terrorists didn't succeed. The 40 people on Flight 93 fought. They charged the cockpit and forced the plane down. They changed history. Their actions were every bit as courageous and vital as Joshua Chamberlain's stand on Little Round Top at Gettysburg.

Yet despite their bravery, the heroes of Flight 93 already seem to be receding from memory. On the six month anniversary of September 11, there were ceremonies galore; none of the stories that I saw paid much notice to Flight 93. At the Academy Awards last Sunday, respect was paid to the victims of September 11, and particularly the firemen and policemen who died in New York, but not a word about Flight 93. Todd Beamer's "Let's roll" is slowly seeping out of the lexicon.

What's to be done to keep America from forgetting these heroes? In Pennsylvania there is a move to establish a Flight 93 Memorial Highway. Two state representatives are fighting over which road should get the honor. Rep. Keith McCall says that Route 93 (which is hundreds of miles away from where Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville) should be designated. Rep. Bob Bastian argues that Route 30 (the road closest to the crash site) should be chosen. The politicians are at loggerheads with one another in the state legislature.

Also, the Allentown Morning Call reports that U.S. Representative Jack Murtha wants to create a federal memorial in Shanksville, which would be administered by the National Park Service.

None of this seems adequate. The passengers and crew weren't mere victims--they were unexpectedly deputized soldiers. They were called to action and asked to defend their country from attack. And they fought a battle to save a physical and symbolic part of the Union. (In one sense, they're the first Americans to die in combat on American soil since the Civil War.)

I'm continually drawn to the similarities between Chamberlain's 20th Maine and Flight 93. Chamberlain was asked to hold Little Round Top against horrible odds; the heroes of Flight 93 were asked to take control of the cockpit from armed, professional killers. When they ran out of ammunition, Chamberlain's men fixed bayonets and charged blindly down the hill; the unarmed heroes of Flight 93 had to storm up a small three-foot-wide aisle. Chamberlain's men held their ground and changed the outcome at Gettysburg; the heroes of Flight 93 succeeded and saved the Capitol.

These men and women deserve our gratitude and our remembrance. We can do better with both.

Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.