SHANKSVILLE — In an address to a private ceremony at the Flight 93 National Memorial Friday morning outside Shanksville, Pa., President Donald Trump harkened back to a country that banded together in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks 19 years ago, and emphasized the heroism and sacrifice of the passengers and crew who died on the hijacked flight.
“The memory of your treasured loved ones will inspire America for all time to come,” Trump said to an audience of surviving family members of the 40 passengers and crew who died on the hijacked flight. “The heroes of Flight 93 are an everlasting reminder that no matter the danger, no matter the threat, no matter the odds, America will always rise up, stand tall and fight back.”
The president’s reverent words came just a week after a bombshell report that said Trump had privately expressed befuddlement toward Americans who risked their lives serving in the U.S. military. The story, originally published in The Atlantic, quoted Trump as calling fallen soldiers “suckers” and “losers.”
On a somber day, the president’s arrival to a nearby airport in Johnstown attracted dozens of supporters with Trump-emblazoned shirts and banners, eager to catch a glimpse of his ferrying from Air Force One to the memorial site.
Sue Peacock, a veteran of the Air Force and Trump supporter, blamed former President Barack Obama for a much more divided country than the time that followed Sept. 11.
“Obama, his mission was to divide this country, to transform America,” Peacock said. “Everything is along racial lines since he’s been there, and that’s a shame, because people are people.”
Nineteen years ago today, members of the terrorist group Al Qaeda hijacked and crashed airplanes into targets that included the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing almost 3,000 people.
Passengers and crew on Flight 93 were able to foil the plans of their hijackers, leading to the plane crashing on the site of a decommissioned coal mine 30 miles south of Johnstown. The land has since transformed into a world-class memorial operated by the U.S. National Park Service.
Though his Friday visit was in a ceremonial capacity, Trump has made Pennsylvania a frequent stop for his campaign. Just last week, the president held a rally in Latrobe, which drew thousands of supporters.
Daniel Helsel, a recently retired machine operator and former board member of the local Teamsters Union, said he thinks the enthusiasm for Trump is higher in Johnstown and the surrounding area than in 2016.
“I have so many friends in this area who are very outspoken, saying, ‘We want Trump,’”Helsel said. “He’s proved himself in the last four years.”
In the most recent statewide polls, representing feedback from likely voters last week, Biden increased his lead to 4.3 points, according to an average weighted by RealClearPolitics. In the previous two weeks, Trump had gained some ground in the polls.
Those numbers haven’t discouraged Denise Lysinger, an accountant from nearby Portage at the Johnstown airport Friday, who called Trump a shoe-in for a second term. “There’s no doubt in my mind, because there’s no way people are going to be suckered into Biden,” she said.
A spokesman for the Biden campaign said in a statement that Biden will travel with his wife Jill Biden to pay their respects to the victims of Flight 93 in the afternoon. Earlier in the day, the Bidens attended the ceremonies at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York.
This year’s 9/11 commemoration at the Flight 93 Memorial is the first with the site’s designs in full effect. Though construction of the site has been mostly finished since 2015, it was not until this year when crews outfitted the site’s memorial tower with 40 aluminum wind chimes, representing the fallen 40 passengers and crew.
The chimes make up a large musical instrument of sorts to create the “Tower of Voices.” An architect who led the design of the memorial, Paul Murdoch of Paul Murdoch Architects, told the Los Angeles Times that the chimes represent the fact that many on the plane made phone calls to talk to their loved ones before the plane crashed, making sound a lasting marker of their lives.
Because of COVID restrictions, U.S. National Park Service officials kept this year’s Sept. 11 commemoration at the memorial shorter and with fewer people on hand. The victims’ families also requested this year’s event be private.
Tom Lisi covers western Pennsylvania for the Capital-Star. Follow him on Twitter @TommyLisi.