By Amy Worden, The Philadelphia Inquirer –
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Looking into cloudless blue skies stunningly reminiscent of Sept. 11, 2001, Vice President Joe Biden delivered an emotional address to the families of those who died aboard Flight 93 on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Biden, drawing on the loss 39 years ago of his wife and young daughter in a car accident, told the 200 family members assembled at the Flight 93 Memorial Tuesday that he hoped each passing year grows easier for them and urged them to take solace in the fact their loved ones’ deeds will not be forgotten.
But, 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, genuine comfort in recalling his smile, her laugh, their touch,” said Biden, during his seven-minute address as hundreds of spectators looked on.
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 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar spoke after the annual reading of the names of the passengers and crew at 10:03 a.m., the moment the Boeing 757 slammed into this 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 of year, including on May 20, his son’s birthday.
“I feel his presence here, I feel closer to him,” said Bingham, 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 here 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 politics would hijack the solemn occasion, some Flight 93 families said they welcomed Biden’s participation here.
“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, past president of the Families of Flight 93, whose older brother, Edward Felt, was on board the San Francisco-bound plane.
Patrick White, the current president of the Families of Flight 93, told the audience that the work continues to build the visitors center and complete other design features — still $5 million shy of the nearly $70 million cost of the project — and that he hopes it will be finished by 2016, the 15th anniversary of the attacks.
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 their 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.”