To me, the story of United Flight 93 is as moving and inspiring as any tale the greatest writers of history could ever devise, or that the brightest minds in Hollywood could produce.
Forty strangers, confronted with the likelihood of their own violent deaths, and aware of tragic events that were unfolding in other places, pulled together the courage to confront their attackers and protect others they would never meet.
If you’ve read their biographies in our pages, in our new book, or elsewhere, you know that these were ordinary people thrown into a terrifying situation who acted in an extraordinary manner.
They included accountants, attorneys and college students.
They worked with wildlife and plants, or had careers in sales or publishing.
One even specialized in air travel safety.
Some were retirees. Others were youngsters just beginning their lives.
Their names are now inscribed on a wall at the Flight 93 National Memorial.
For those of us who have spent considerable time retelling their stories, their names and faces are likewise etched on our hearts.
On Monday morning, after the crowds have moved out of Shanksville and after the media trucks have pulled away, a quiet ceremony will bring closure to this powerful weekend of remembering.
And, perhaps, bring closure for some family members, friends and colleagues of those who perished on Sept. 11, 2001.
Those closest to the crew and passengers of Flight 93 will gather at the crash site for a funeral service of sorts.
They will be joined by Somerset County and National Park Service officials and others central to the Flight 93 memorial, as three caskets of victims’ remains are returned to the ground near the spot where they perished 10 years ago today.
Somerset County Coroner Wally Miller has organized the memorial and reinterment ceremony. He will lead the service.
Appropriately, the event will not be open to the public or the media.
These remains have been held in Miller’s care since 9/11.
They have been declared “unidentified,” although enough material was gathered in the days after the crash to identify through DNA testing all 40 victims as well as the four terrorists.
This process, Miller told a gathering Thursday evening at Hidden Valley Resort, was also aided by personal affects, dental records and a few fingerprints found on items at the crash site.
Sometimes the work of coroners and forensic specialists seems cold and uncaring.
But in talking with Miller, you get the sense that he approached his task with compassion for those who died and those left behind – despite the nature of his duties.
Miller and his local crew worked with federal investigators to gather, organize and then study remains from the crash site.
And the remains of these 40 innocent people have been part of a federal terrorism investigation used to find answers not only to what happened in that field near Shanksville, but also in New York City and at the Pentagon.
The coroner said family members heard and saw much of the evidence within months after the crash, and have been exposed to it many times since.
It’s hard to comprehend what that is like.
For in the end, these 40 victims were very real people – husbands and wives; brothers and sisters; parents or children; aunts, uncles and cousins.
They were co-workers and close friends.
They were all loved and are deeply missed.
Carole O’Hare, daughter of Flight 93 victim Hilda Marcin, told The Tribune-Democrat: “The 40 brave men and women who died that day were heroes. ... They were also our loved ones.”
She added: “This ceremony provides an opportunity for us to reflect quietly on their extraordinary lives.”
Those who perished aboard Flight 93 deserve the greatest dignity we can offer them, despite the very public manner in which their lives were taken.
And their survivors deserve this private moment to reflect and once again say goodbye – away from the cameras and spotlights.
To see video from the Flight 93 National Memorial dedication proceedings, click here.
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.