FIRST PERSON | NEAR SHANKSVILLE, Pa. -- Ten years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, a small ragtag band of terrorists boarded four commercial planes, determined to serve a master who was bent on destroying my country. Three of those planes reached their targets. What the hijackers didn't count on was the resolve of a group of 40 everyday Americans.
Fast-forward 10 years. On Sept. 10, 2011, I'm standing in the crowd at the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial. I saw many everyday people paying honor to those 40. I believe the 40 heroes of Flight 93 -- and make no mistake, they are heroes -- found reason to smile from wherever they might be.
While in the line at the security checkpoint, I heard the first sounds from the dedication service. I didn't have a program guide, but I instinctively knew the meaning of that bell. I knew the mournful tones were honoring those who were lost and wanted to cover my eyes to hide my tears.
As we walked the path to the Memorial Plaza, the lump returned to my throat as I heard Sarah McLachlan sing "I Will Remember You." I turned to my left and the sight of that large stone in the field made me stop. My boyfriend turned back to me and I told him my realization. "That's where it crashed."
Watching the clock while we were waiting in traffic, I became worried I would miss the one speaker I most wanted to hear. I didn't vote for him either time, and I didn't like many of his decisions. But, on that day 10 years ago, I was proud of my president.
President George W. Bush was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation. The sounds of shouts and whistles filled my heart. In the darkest hour of my lifetime, this man stepped up to lead. He told us we will fight back. He told us it wasn't the end.
On this day, I listened to his voice, so soft-spoken as he tried to give comfort to the loved ones of those 40 people. I heard his pain, and it made my heart ache. A word I've heard many times to describe the feelings about 9/11 is "raw." Until he dies, I believe he will never feel anything but raw when remembering that day.
Following the ceremony, we found someplace to sit for a bit, looking out over the Field of Honor. While I couldn't stop myself from watching, I felt like a voyeur as I saw some of the family members walk through that field to the stone. They were visiting the exact spot where their loved ones left them 10 years ago.
Hoping to see the Wall of Names, we made our way through the crowds. As we got nearer, I was shocked to hear occasional applause. Then I saw the faces of those being applauded: the family members of the heroes of Flight 93. I saw children around 12 or 13 years old, and I knew they have no true memories of the parent they lost that day. I saw the pain in the eyes of teens and widows or widowers. The intentions were good, but the crowds who stayed to watch them leave the Memorial Plaza created a gauntlet for the mourners. It was too public on this day, and I knew it was time to leave.
When we boarded the shuttle bus, we were told to look for a bus with a "Family" placard when we chose to leave. I suddenly found myself in the midst of all these survivors. Many of them just wanted to go home, get away from the crowds. Sadly, I found no words. How could anything I could muster make them feel any less raw. I worried that any words of condolences from an absolute stranger would sound trite.
We rode the shuttle bus back to our truck in silence.
As we discussed the day's events at our campsite that night, I fought tears many times as the memories of the day overwhelmed me. I witnessed a sad moment in history first-hand. I can only hope, as former president Bill Clinton said, that the sacrifices of those 40 ordinary people will be remembered 2,500 years from now.