SHANKSVILLE, Pa. - Scores of people began arriving shortly after dawn to mark the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks at the national memorial where a hijacked airliner crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania that day.
The passengers and crew on board Flight 93 were honored in a ceremony led by Vice President Joe Biden. Biden delivered the keynote remarks at a service that began at 9:30 a.m.
"What they did for this country is still etched in the minds of not only you, but millions of Americans forever. That's why it's so important for this memorial to be preserved," Biden said.
He assured the families of Flight 93 victims that the nation will never forget the sacrifice of their loved ones, the 40 passengers and crew members who grappled with terrorists to avert an attack on the nation’s capital, bringing the jetliner down into a field in Somerset County.
He told relatives to take solace in the words of poet William Butler Yeats as they visit the Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville: “Pray I will and sing I must, And yet I weep ,” from “A Woman Young and Old.”
“We all appreciated the incredible bravery and sacrifice they showed that day,” Biden said.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Patrick White, president of the Families of Flight 93, also spoke at the service.
“This a place where Americans can celebrate the spirit of America and heroes who rose up and protected the United States of America,” Salazar said.
At 10:03 a.m., the moment the flight crashed, the names of passengers and crew members were read and the Bells of Remembrance were rung by members of the victims’ families and community members who assisted in the aftermath of 9/11.
Gordon Felt, who lost his brother Edward in the crash, helped read the names of passengers and crew members who died while fighting the terrorists who hijacked the place.
“It’s not just about coming and learning about 40 unique heroes that acted with the utmost bravery in a collective fashion. It's also a place where people can come and learn about September 11th,” Felt said.
The ceremony also included the placing of a wreath at the Wall of Names.
One of those brave souls onboard Flight 93 was Jerry Bingham's son, Mark. Bingham told Channel 11’s Courtney Brennan what he misses most about him.
"Mainly his hugs and his sense of humor. He was good. He could take a joke and give a joke,” Bingham said.
Bingham said the scab is ripped off every time he sets foot in this Shanksville field and the emotions are overwhelming, but he feels his son's presence and that's why he keeps coming back.
"That's why we come on his birthday. We come to meetings. We come here on September 11th. When you love your kids, that's what you do,” Bingham said.
After the ceremony, Biden made a surprise visit to the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Department and had lunch with the members.
On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited the site and pledged to remain ever vigilant against terrorists.
As he visited the memorial in Somerset County, Panetta said it was a honor for him to pay tribute to the heroes who lost their lives fighting the terrorist attacks 11 years ago on Sept. 11.
“These people put their lives on the line to protect this country. We should never forget their sacrifice, “ Panetta told the media after visiting privately with Flight 93 family members at the Wall of Names near Shanksville, Somerset County.
He said the administration will remain vigilant against threats to the United Sates.
“Our pledge to the families and to all Americans is that we will remain forever vigilant to threats to our homeland. Nobody strikes the United States and gets away with it,” he said.
Noting the slaying of Osama bin Laden and two other al-Qaida leaders since the 2001 attacks, Panetta said that while the leadership of al-Qaida has been dismantled, the threat of terrorism remains real in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.
But he warned terrorists that the Obama administration “will pursue and fight you wherever you go.”
“There will be no place they will be able to hide from justice,” Panetta said.
Monday was Panetta’s first visit to the permanent memorial that honors the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93 who lost their lives while disrupting some hijacking terrorists’ planned attack on the nation’s capital. The jetliner crashed into the field when passengers and crew fought back.
Officials said $5 million still needs to be raised so the memorial can be finished.
The families said they would like to see it completed by the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.