Modern pilgrims saved democracy, then perished in an earsplitting fall to earth
Above Pennsylvania, civilians saved our citadel on the cruel morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Strangers to one another, they boarded a plane bound for San Francisco -- so their tickets said.
High in a turquoise sky, the aircraft turned around and thundered east, zeroing in on Washington. Their memorial is as stark as the lonely landscape where they crashed in a dive, all aboard smashed to smithereens.
Nothing remained except an extraordinary act of heroism, a shipwreck's parting gift to a rocky 21st century. A farm field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, shall be forever America.
President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will visit the site Friday to honor the 40 souls. This quiet place has no praise for famous men. Yet there's a whisper if you listen to the wind.
The dead were failed by their president, government, military.
Utterly alone up there, as if tossed on a stormy sea or lost in a wilderness. The brash new Texan president ignored intelligence warnings on the plot, briefed on his ranch in late August. No fighter pilot came close.
The civilians gave a profound lesson in citizens defeating a threat to American democracy. This has obvious meaning for us now, as an election more existential than ever in our lives looms large.
When the president is a threat to American democracy, civilians must mobilize for a free and fair election -- already under attack. We are the last resort. It's up to us, as one plane passenger said. Recordings reveal the people collectively decided to revolt and storm the hijackers when their shared plight was clear.
Let's review the tragic sequence.
Aboard United 93 that Tuesday were 33 passengers and seven crew members on a doomed flight. The fourth hijacked plane soon became "the only plane in the sky," as author Garrett Graf wrote. Over Ohio, Ziad Jarrah and three "muscle hijackers," wielding box cutters, wrested controls from the captain for Jarrah to fly the plane.