SHANKSVILLE — About 1,500 people sloshed through mud and stood for hours to be part of the 17th anniversary memorial observance. The event honored the heroic actions of 40 passengers and flight crew, who battled terrorists and won in the skies over Stonycreek Township on Sept 11, 2001, but lost their lives in the process.
On Tuesday the observance at the Flight 93 National Memorial had a fittingly somber atmosphere.
“It is a very special place, a very special time and a very special president,” said Steve Bush, of Davidsville.
President Donald Trump was one of the speakers at the ceremony.
Many of the visitors said they were there as much to see and show support for Trump as they were to show respect for the 40 innocent people who died there. Many sported Trump T-shirts and hats, and some carried banners showing their support for the president.
James McKeel and his friend of 30 years, Jim Dyson, both of Ebensburg, said they watched Flight 93 fly over a landfill where both were working on heavy equipment on 9/11.
“It was the timing, after we heard about the crash on the news,” Dyson said, explaining how they knew it was “the plane.”
Both men were coal miners, although they did not work together in the mines. They have done “tons of block work” building foundations together, though.
Sporting a Trump T-shirt, McKeel said that previously he was only at the memorial once, immediately after the crash. Tuesday marked his first visit since the completion of the memorial.
“I came to see President Trump and to show my condolences,” he said.
Dyson had been to the crash site twice, once with his friend on the day the plane fell out of the sky and once with his brother visiting from Seattle, Washington.
Many visitors attended the observance with extended family.
Grandparents and two of their granddaughters traveled from Smithfield, close to the West Virginia border, to be part of the observance.
Michael Dunham has been to the memorial three times, his granddaughters twice. His trip there for the observance was “to pay respect,” he said.
“The girls got up at 15 to 4 (a.m.),” their grandmother Karen Dunham said. They were so excited about the event and the family wanted to get good seats, she said.
“We wanted to teach our granddaughters American history up close and personal,” Michael Dunham said.
For 12-year-old Jordan Dunham, the trip was an education.
“I’m here to learn about the people who are here, to learn about what happened here and to learn about the people who died here,” she said.
Her cousin, Hannah Dunham, 10, of Fairchance, said, “I came here to learn about the bells (rung when the names of the 40 were read by family members or memorial architect Paul Murdoch) and to learn about Donald Trump.”
The theme of several speakers Tuesday was love of family and love of country, which resonated with many in the audience.
It was the first time at the memorial for Lori Slater, of Hadley. She and her family went to the memorial Monday to learn more about what happened there before the observance. It didn’t matter that they all got soaking wet, she said.
“It is amazing and it’s sad,” she said. “It touches your heart.”
Her friend Barb Dye, of Jackson Center, said she believes that all schools should bring their students to the memorial as part of a field trip.
Bryce Galentine, 10, took the day off school to attend the observance with his grandfather, Gene Galentine, of Stoystown.
He wanted to attend the memorial observance because it was something he could share with his grandfather and because “I got to miss a little school,” he said with a shy smile.
Bryce has been to the memorial “lots of times” but never for an anniversary service.
“It has been the same except I got to see President Trump and for all of this,” he said, motioning at the people milling around him.
Many of those people stood quietly for an hour or two before the ceremony began.
“It is an emotional time. Just thinking about this day, I have to try to keep it together,” Dana Shroyer said. She just moved back to Johnstown after living in Georgia for 22 years.
She looked around at the crowd.
“This (memorial) puts you out there. The president is here. Dignitaries are here,” she said. “But, we cannot not come. That’s not who we are.”
Shroyer strived to check an item off her mother-in-law Cora Shroyer’s bucket list.
Cora Shroyer is 85 and wanted to attend an anniversary at the memorial. “Just to be here and remember,” she said.
The Davidsville resident has been to the memorial many times. She is impressed by the serenity, the quiet.
“When you walk in hardly anyone talks,” she said.
It is all about respect, she said.