Vice President Biden addresses families at Flight 93 Memorial

Crowds gather at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to hear Vice President Biden and the annual reading of the names of the flight's 40 passengers and crew members.
Crowds gather at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to hear Vice President Biden and the annual reading of the names of the flight's 40 passengers and crew members. (LAURENCE KESTERSON / For The Inquirer)
Posted: September 13, 2012

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. - While politicians were shunned at 9/11 memorial services elsewhere Tuesday, Vice President Biden proved the right choice for the families of those who died aboard Flight 93.

There was no electioneering, only heartfelt words from a man who knew the pain of tragedy as well as they did, a man who had lost his first wife and young daughter in a car accident 39 years ago.

Gripping the podium, he said he understood the "terror of the moment" that returns with each anniversary.

"My hope for you all is that as every year passes, the depth of your pain recedes and you find comfort, as I have," said Biden, "genuine comfort, in recalling his smile, her laugh, their touch."

Biden said the names of the 40 passengers and crew, whose fierce struggle against four hijackers prevented an attack on the U.S. Capitol, are "etched in the minds of millions of Americans forever."

Biden and Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar spoke after the annual reading of the names of the passengers and crew at 10:03 a.m., the moment that Boeing 757 slammed into the mountaintop coal field.

In attendance was Navy Cmdr. Cole Hayes, of the U.S.S. Somerset, the newly christened amphibious transport ship whose keel was constructed in part with steel from a coal drag line that stood near the site the day the plane crashed.

Jerry Bingham, father of passenger Mark Bingham, the 31-year-old rugby player who helped lead the attack on the cockpit, said he visits the site several times a year, including on May 22, his son's birthday.

"I feel his presence here, I feel closer to him," Bingham said, tearing up as he recalled his son's memorable hugs and his sense of humor.

Carol Whelan said her cousin, passenger Richard Guadagno, who managed a wildlife refuge in California for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would feel at home in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania.

"This is where he would be happy," said Whelan, of Jackson, N.J., surveying the blooming wildflowers that cover the crash site where the remains of the passengers and crew lie.

While families of victims in the World Trade Center attacks nixed the idea of public officials speaking at their ceremony Tuesday, fearing election-year politicking would overtake the solemn occasion, some Flight 93 families said they welcomed Biden's participation.

"We are concerned that Sept. 11 not be used for political purposes, but when you heard the remarks today you know it's apolitical," said Gordon Felt, former president of the Families of Flight 93, whose older brother, Edward, was on board the San Francisco-bound plane.

Patrick White, the current president of the Families of Flight 93, told the audience that work continues on the memorial park's visitors' center and other design features. Although the project is still $5 million shy of its nearly $70 million cost, White said that he hopes it will be finished by the 15th anniversary of the attacks in 2016.

Salazar, who was making his seventh visit to the site and has been a vocal advocate for the 2,000-acre park, vowed to "get it done."

"We are very close," he said.

Gordon Felt echoed the vice president when he spoke after the ceremony of the lingering feeling of loss, knowing that his brother, like others, would never see his children graduate or experience other milestones of life.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about Ed," said Felt, who runs a camp for special needs children in the Adirondack Mountains. "But he inspires me."


Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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