submitted by Jill Helsel Gingrich, La Torre Communications

“Friends, I feel a great sense of privilege to be here as your guest today; so, I first would like to thank the Partnership, the Families of Flight 93 and Gordon Felt for the opportunity to provide thoughts and reflections on such hallowed ground.

It’s certainly good to be with you again. Your faces and smiles are warming to me. And it is clear that you’ve lived your lives with respect and affection for your loved ones who we honor today.

Aside from noting the presence of many public officials—including National Park Service leaders—allow me to also acknowledge my predecessor, Governor Tom Ridge and my successors, Governors Rendell, Corbett and current Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.  Together, we have consistently supported this National Memorial and the Families of Flight 93 for all the right reasons.

If I may, allow me to also acknowledge someone who has been here since 9/11 and has never left … so to speak. He’s always had the right words for the families of our heroes. Simply stated, he’s a good man.

Please join me in acknowledging Somerset County’s fine leader and public servant, Mr. Wally Miller.

For the heroes we honor today — and everyday — please know that I am still in awe of them. As expressed the last time I officially spoke here on September 11, 2002 — it was here that freedom took its first stand.

Today — this morning—again…we gather to reflect on the sacrifice that we have never forgotten. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 6,205 days since they defeated terror in the skies above.

But as we know, time has a tendency to stand still when loved ones are ripped from us. Yet, we continue to hold them so close to our heart.

Back then, we made a pact that we would never forget.

And we never have.

I want you to know that at difficult times in my life, my thoughts go to them. Their sacrifice, patriotism and love for America was — and remains — so incredibly pure that it is difficult for many to grasp.

Thomas Burnett Jr. told his wife, Deena: “A group of us are getting ready to do something. I have to go. I love you. Goodbye.”

Gordon Felt’s brother, Edward, called 9-1-1 to report the hijacking. In a moment of horror, he too was thinking of others.

Deora Frances Bodley would be 38 years old today. That day, she was the youngest passenger on board. Deora’s mom, Debby, touchingly told a reporter in 2015: “It’s important to me that the visitor sees what these 40 people took on, to take a stand for freedom, to take the kind of stand that cost their lives. Maybe there will be some special thing they see about Deora that will inspire them.”

Debby, let me tell you, we know how special your daughter is; we know how special they all are.

And, yes, they inspire us to this minute.

That’s why this moment together is so fitting and, if I may say, timely.

As they did in the years leading up to 2001, our counter-intelligence agencies are now watching attacks take place in faraway places. They are growing increasingly aggressive. As we saw in Indonesia only a few months ago, men, women and children — entire family units — are committing vile acts of terrorism.

Terrorists are adapting, using very sophisticated technology, including drones as we saw recently in a South American ceremony.

The threats remain very real, so we must remain vigilant — and we must prepare a new generation of leadership.

As I’ve had the university responsibility to relate the Flight 93 story to homeland security grad students, reality set in for me not too long ago.

…the fact is, friends, our college students aren’t old enough to remember, first-hand, what happened here.

So, as I marvel at this Tower of Voices, I cannot help but think of the biblical and oral storytellers of centuries ago. And their motivation. They traveled and met with countless people to voice recollections and stories of history that remain critical to their past and their future.

In Colonial times, these stories were shared at the village tavern. Decades ago, these narratives were told on porch steps from Pennsylvania to Nebraska and beyond. Their job, often self-chosen, was to ensure people did not forget the events that shaped their lives and cultures.

Might I suggest that these chimes, on this sacred ground, help tell the story of 40 brave souls, who came together by chance—sacrificed to provide protection—and so doing changed our world.

It’s as if the chimes musically ring in our ears with three striking notes:

  • we must never forget what took place here
  • we must never forget the heroes who sacrificed here
  • and we must never forget and always strive to reach the purity of their remarkably noble sacrifice

Friends, can you hear the notes?

Do you hear their call?

Hopefully, you do.

So, when you all return home to your daily lives…please share the story of the Flight 93 patriots.  Be—their—storyteller.

And when you do, tell everyone:

On September 11, 2001, it was here that freedom took its dramatic stand.

God bless us all in this important work…and thank you for having me!”

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