State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

Families of Flight 93 heroes lay unidentified remains to rest at crash site

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 12, 2011 6:23 PM

For ten years, the unidentified remains of the 40 passengers and crew who died on Flight 93 sat in three caskets stored away in a mausoleum.

On Monday, the families of those 40 people buried the coffins on the sacred ground where Flight 93 crashed. 

Families often say there is no closure for what they’ve been through.  But for Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller, the burial service is closure – the closure of a case, a death scene, for which he became responsible ten years ago.

Miller led the efforts to recover remains from the Flight 93 crash site.  He says if the site itself is likened to Gettysburg, he likens himself and his crew to the farmers of Emmitsburg.  They were just tending to their orchards one day, Miller imagines, and the Civil War was brought to their doorstep.

“Then all of a sudden it was over, and there was a lot to clean up and take care of and they were left to do it, and that’s what they did,” said Miller.  “I’m sure they were just like we were, just regular Americans that wanted their land to heal as best they could.  I’m sure that that’s what they did.  That’s what we did.”

The burial service turns what has been an open grave for the past decade into a true cemetery.  Miller said unlike the ceremonies of the past weekend, this funeral is an event that belonged to the families of the Flight 93 heroes alone.

“The last two days they’ve opened up and allowed the public into everything,” said Miller, “but I think that they – we – owe it to them on this final day to let this be a private affair. 

Miller said families of the 40 people who died on Flight 93 decided to bury the unidentified remains on the jetliner’s crash site once the plans were finalized for the Flight 93 National Memorial.  The service itself was a final send-off of sorts from the people who worked alongside Miller right after September 11th, 2001 to help protect the site, recover the remains there, and help the families of those who died.

“We’ve put our heart and soul into this and it’s being offered up to those family members as our final gesture to say goodbye to these people,” said Miller.  “I think to a lot of these workers, it really is going to be a little bit of a sense of closure.  I think we can use the term with that.”

The 40 men and women who died on Flight 93 – called heroes, not victims – broke into the cockpit of their plane to wrest control from four terrorist hijackers aboard on September 11th, 2001. 

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