0

Courage of Flight 93 victims lauded at memorial dedication

Family and friends of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 gather at the Wall of Names after the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial  Sept. 10, 2011 in Shanksville, Pa.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Family and friends of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 gather at the Wall of Names after the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial Sept. 10, 2011 in Shanksville, Pa.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. -- The 40 passengers and crew who fought back against their hijackers aboard Flight 93 on Sept. 11 performed one of the most courageous acts in U.S. history, former President George W. Bush said Saturday at a ceremony dedicating the first phase of a memorial at the nation's newest national park.

The hijackers intended to crash the plane in Washington but "never made it because of the determination and valor of the passengers and crew of Flight 93, that plane crashed in this field, less than 20 minutes by air" from the target, said Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service.

Bill Clinton likened the actions of those aboard Flight 93 to the defenders of the Alamo in Texas or the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae some 2,500 years ago, with a dramatic and telling difference: "They were soldiers. They knew what they had to do."

The passengers and crew were not, but they gave "the entire country an incalculable gift: They saved the capital from attack," an untold amount of lives and denied al-Qaida the symbolic victory of "smashing the center of American government."

They were, he said, "ordinary people given no time at all to decide and they did the right thing. And 2,500 years from now, I hope and pray to God that people will still remember this."

They were among several speakers at the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial who told of the sacrifice and honor of the passengers and crew. The ceremony drew more than 4,000 people, including hundreds of victims' relatives.