SHANKSVILLE, Pa. – Memories of the morning of September 11, 2001 reminded First Lady Jill Biden of her sister’s inspiring resolve in the days after the flight attendant lost cherished United Airlines friends in the attacks.
Connie Hasenei was just two years old when her great aunt, Patricia Cushing, died on the same flight. And she grew up with little more than photographs as memories of a woman who quickly became her “hero,” she said.
While representing two generations impacted far differently by the Flight 93 crash, both women carried a similar message about the moment, telling a crowd Sunday that the nation cannot forget their sacrifice – and the hopeful lessons they left behind.
The events of Flight 93 “showed us that we are all connected to one another,” Biden said, while a steady rain fell at Shanksville.
“So as we stand on this sacred and scarred earth … this is the legacy we must carry forward: Hope that defies hate. Love that defies loss. And the ties that hold us together through it all,” she said.
With the gates open to the public for the Flight 93 National Memorial’s Sept. 11 ceremony for the first time since 2019, hundreds of Americans from across the nation joined Biden and the ill-fated flight’s families to celebrate the “40 heroes” – remembered as the first to fight back against terrorists in the skies above western Pennsylvania that morning.
Now 21 years after the 9/11 attacks, a nation of citizens who were once all bonded by a collective memory of where they were when two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center now live alongside more than 75 million Americans too young to remember that day .
Despite growing up with a deep admiration for her great-aunt Patricia, Hasenei said she learned little about Flight 93 in school and often found herself explaining to classmates that it, too, crashed in the moments after the better-known World Trade Center attacks.
Today, as a college graduate working for a Maryland propane company, Hasenei said she’s embraced the memorial’s mission to educate the world about the actions of the men and women on board the flight that day – working to take control of the plane, targeted to destroy the US Capitol or another Washington landmark.
“It’s truly amazing to me that the passengers and crew created such a bond and came together in such a short amount of time,” she said.
Flight 93, she added, “was my hero’s flight.”
Hasenei’s words touched Katie Short, of Washington, DC, as she stood in a rain-soaked crowd Sunday.
“It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact there are young people who didn’t experience 9/11 – and the feeling of patriotism that flourished around the country afterward,” Short said. “But it was so impactful to hear, in her own words, how she carries on her aunt’s memory.
“But that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “It wasn’t just that moment (when the plane crashed). It’s about what happened after.”
Then-senator Joe Biden was on an Amtrak train bound for Washington, DC, at the time of the Pentagon and New York attacks – but, Jill Biden said she wasn’t sure if her sister, a United Airlines flight attendant, could also be in harm’s way.
She recalled reaching out to console her sister, Bonny Jacobs, after learning she lost friends and colleagues in the hijackings – but was inspired by “the pride” she had over the fact her fellow flight attendants fought back on Flight 93.
It didn’t take long before the nation was, too, Biden said.
“You all have stories, too – of that moment – of that day,” Jill Biden said to the Flight 93 families. “Hands you’ll never hold again. Voices you long to hear.”
But beyond that – “stories of heroes … and stories of hope,” she said.
National Park Service Western Pennsylvania Superintendent Stephen Clark said all of that is woven into the lasting story of Flight 93: ordinary people acting together with “valor and distinction,” strength and resilience – perhaps saving thousands of lives and inspiring countless more, he said.
The Park Service’s ongoing mission is to tell that story – particularly to those millions too young to remember, Clark said.
“Let us never forget what they did here,” he said. “It’s our duty to pause and remember those individuals.”
Owen and Robin Kelly drove from their Warwick, Rhode Island, home to do just that Sunday.
The couple said they have visited the World Trade Center National Memorial several times, but were stirred by the solemn tribute to Flight 93’s passengers and crew.
“What they did here – they knew the fate that awaited them was inevitable – but they took it upon themselves to stop harm from coming to any more people,” Robin Kelly said. “That’s heroism – and it’s a story that should never go away.” .”