SHANKSVILLE, PA (Reuters) - Former President George W. Bush on Saturday promised that the nation would never forget the heroism of the 40 passengers and crew killed in the crash of hijacked United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001.
“What happened above this Pennsylvania field was among the most courageous acts in American history,” Bush told a crowd during the dedication of a memorial at the site where the flight crashed following an onboard struggle to thwart hijackers who had seized the plane.
Investigators believe the hijackers of that plane wanted to hit the U.S. Capitol or the White House.
“For as long as this memorial stands, we’ll remember ... the sacrifice they made and the lives they spared. The United States will never forget,” said Bush, one of many dignitaries speaking at the gathering under leaden skies.
Among them was former President Bill Clinton, who thanked Bush and President Barack Obama, scheduled to appear at the site on Sunday, for “not letting us get attacked again.”
Vice President Joseph Biden also spoke about the courage of those aboard Flight 93 and the “debt we can never repay.”
“They didn’t board that plane to fight a war but when they heard the news ... they stood up and they stood their ground,” Biden said.
Some family members were pleased with the recognition, including Calvin Wilson, 55, of Herndon, Virginia, whose brother in law was copilot Leroy Homer.
“What was special for me was that we have the acknowledgement from our country that they were heroes ... I feel good. I feel recharged,” Wilson said.
The memorial, which is about 40 percent complete, includes a marble wall etched with the names of the 40 passengers and crew. The wall follows the flight path and a large boulder marks the approximate crash site.
Forty groves of trees will be planted in a nearby field, and there will be a walkway along those groves that will pass between two large walls. There will be an overlook that will allow visitors to see the expanse of the field and the crash site. The memorial is scheduled to be finished in 2014, according to architect Paul Murdoch.
A temporary memorial has stood for a decade at the site in southwestern Pennsylvania, and nearly 1.5 million people have visited.
At Saturday’s two-hour dedication ceremony, FBI agents raised a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001, and a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.”
“I had more feeling for this place than Washington or New York because these people averted something that much bigger, that much deadlier,” said Merrie Keller, 57, of Harboro, Pennsylvania, who came on a bus trip sponsored by a radio station.
Organizers say $10 million still needs to be raised to complete construction of the Flight 93 National Memorial. At the ceremony, former President Clinton, a Democrat, said he and House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, had agreed to have a bipartisan event to raise money for the memorial.
About $52 million has already been raised in public and private funds.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune