By J. Taylor Rushing - 09/09/09 08:49 PM EDT
Congressional leaders set aside their deepest divisions for an hour Wednesday afternoon, uniting, if only in sadness, to remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that nearly reached the Capitol itself.
Democrats and Republicans stood shoulder to shoulder in Statuary Hall for the eighth-anniversary ceremony after the day's uncertain weather forced a change in last year's outdoor location on the Capitol's east steps. The U.S. Marine Band provided musical interludes of patriotic songs like “God Bless America.”
The speakers emphasized that the Capitol itself was a likely target of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers stormed the plane's cockpit. Federal investigators later concluded that the hijacked plane was headed toward either the Capitol or the White House.
“We stand in a building that might not be here if not for those heroes,” said Reid.
McConnell recalled how members of Congress gathered on the Capitol steps shortly after the attacks to sing “God Bless America,” emphasizing that the years have only strengthened the national resolve.
“We stood together here at the Capitol to show our solidarity with one another, with the victims, and with the rest of a nation stunned but not silenced by the face of evil,” McConnell said. “Our hearts were broken, but our spirits were not. And united in purpose, we resolved to confront those who had done these things, even as we comforted the families and friends of those to whom they were done.”
The ceremony followed a smaller, private ceremony in the Capitol's East Front Lobby where members of Congress and the families of Flight 93 victims watched as a plaque was unveiled to honor the victims.
In the audience was Lyz Best, who cried softly as she remembered her husband, Jeremy Glick, another of the flight’s victims.
“Eight years later, it’s still difficult,” Best said. “But it’s a proud moment today, a positive remembrance. Our daughter is 8 years old now, so it’s nice for her to learn about him and what he did. It’s very fitting that there’s a plaque here in the Capitol.”
Also present was Alice Hoagland, mother of Flight 93's Mark Bingham. Hoagland has established a foundation in her son’s memory and said she also appreciated the day’s remembrances.
“I’m extremely proud,” she said. “I miss Mark very much, but it’s a real honor to be here among the other victims.”
The plaque is inscribed with all 40 names of the victims, underneath the words: “In memory of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, whose brave sacrifice on Sept. 11, 2001, not only saved countless lives but may have saved the U.S. Capitol from destruction.”