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A YEAR AFTER

Tribute to Gallantry of Flight 93 Victims

Tragedy: Bell rings out 40 times for 40 names at a desolate Pennsylvania field now venerated.

September 12, 2002|DAVID LAMB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Forty times the bell rang out across western Pennsylvania's valley of death Wednesday and 40 times a new name was read, until finally all the passengers and crew on United Airlines Flight 93 were accounted for. Their families and friends bowed their heads, then stood to sing "America, the Beautiful."

The Boeing 757 had gone down near here at 10:10 a.m., a year to the minute from when the bell first rang, after the passengers' heroic attack on four terrorists who had hijacked the Newark-to-San Francisco flight. The attack, homeland security chief Tom Ridge told the crowd gathered in the field, 400 yards from the crash site, was the first battle in the war on terrorism.

More than 500 of the victims' relatives converged on this small hamlet for the outdoor commemoration, as had several thousand members of the public, many of whom carried American flags. After the hourlong ceremony, President Bush met privately with the families, as he did several months earlier at the White House.

"The healing gets easier with time, and a gathering like this really helps that process," said Armond Talignani, whose brother, John, a World War II veteran, died in the crash. He was flying to San Francisco to attend the funeral of his son, who had been killed the week before in a car accident.

Unlike the crystal-clear day when Flight 93 crashed, dark clouds hung Wednesday over the Allegheny back roads leading to the expansive field, rimmed by trees broken and seared by the plane's impact. The temperature hovered in the low 60s, and a stiff wind snapped at the cluster of American flags and kicked up dust from the gravel road.

Among those who came to remember the victims' gallantry--symbolized by Todd Beamer's last known words, "Let's roll"--were a contingent of 40 or so pilots and flight attendants, wearing uniforms that represented several airlines.

The crowds were drawn to a makeshift collection of remembrances that grew spontaneously over a year's time. A Buddhist altar, fruits and coins and pictures of the deceased are placed there. Many visitors sign small stones. Others leave hats and flags and write messages on a large sheet of white cardboard attached to a strand of mesh wire. "To my sister, Nichole," one said. "I won't forget the fun we had."

Jack Wolford, a retired USAir pilot, and his wife, Rose, drove from Virginia Beach, Va., to attend the commemoration. He came, he said, to honor "these people who are true heroes in every sense of the word."

"To tell you the truth," he went on, "I've still got too much anger in me. Anger, I guess, that people could hate us so much they'd do something like this. I hope I'll get rid of some of that anger today. I hope by watching the family members being tough, it'll help me be tough and get some of this anger out of my system."

Libby Custer pulled her sweater tighter around her to cut the chill. "We just live a mile away. I was on the phone with Mother that morning. I was watching the attack on the World Trade Center and I said, 'At least we don't have any terrorist targets in Somerset County.' Then I heard the scream of a jet engine and 10 seconds later, an explosion that shook the house."

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