4th of July: Fields of Freedom

A visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial underscored the preciousness of our liberty.

The American flag flies at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, on June 30, 2024.

By Tom Sileo Published on July 4, 2024

The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate the freedom, family, and faith that makes this country great. It is also a time to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in a land of liberty.

Last weekend, my family visited one of our nation’s most sacred sites: a quiet field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. It is near the tiny town of Shanksville, where the heroes of United Flight 93 overtook four 9/11 terrorists and forced the hijacked plane into the ground.

In doing so, the terrified but incredibly brave passengers and crew members saved countless lives and most likely the U.S. Capitol.

“The 33 passengers and seven crew of Flight 93 could have been any group of citizens selected by fate. In that sense, they stood in for us all,” former President George W. Bush said on September 11, 2021. “The terrorists soon discovered that a random group of Americans is an exceptional group of people. Facing an impossible circumstance, they comforted their loved ones by phone, braced each other for action, and defeated the designs of evil.”

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Having visited the Pentagon and Ground Zero shortly after the attacks and, years later, the National September 11 Memorial  & Museum in New York, I can tell you there is something eerily different about experiencing the National Flight 93 Memorial. Instead of the busy streets of Manhattan or the nation’s capital, you find yourself standing in the silence of a wide-open field.

While the Flight 93 Memorial’s recently built visitors center and tower are powerful, nothing compares to looking out into the field where America won the first battle of the war on terrorism. While doing so, I could see the faces and hear the voices of the ordinary people who, as the former president said, came together to do something extraordinary during the most harrowing moments any human being could experience.

The light rain that was falling when my family visited seemed to symbolize the tears of both sorrow and gratitude that our country will eternally shed for the 40 American heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to save hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of their fellow citizens.

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On that tragically doomed flight, Todd Beamer recited the Lord’s Prayer and 23rd Psalm with airphone supervisor Lisa Jefferson before rallying his fellow Flight 93 passengers to confront the terrorists in the cockpit.

When Beamer said, “Let’s roll” amid the chaos in the skies, he unknowingly inspired a new generation of Americans to step forward and defend our country in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. As you can read about every week here on The Stream, that spirit of service and sacrifice has endured from September 11, 2001 all the way to July 4, 2024.

As my family was leaving Shanksville, we saw a sign for a Global War on Terrorism Memorial right around the corner from the Flight 93 Memorial. I am glad we stopped to see it. In another quiet field, approximately 7,000 American flags gently waved in the wind. They represent each American service member killed during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other post-9/11 counterterrorism missions.

One of the names in the book of heroes was U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, the subject of my new book I Have Your Back. Much like the heroes of 9/11, who deeply inspired the native New Yorker, Ollis made a conscious choice to sacrifice his own life to save someone else’s during a frantic battle. He was determined to prevent another terrorist attack on American soil and gave every last measure of himself to do just that.

There are, of course, many more examples of selfless courage long who sacrificed their lives long years before 9/11, starting with those in the Revolutionary War that birthed our nation. While standing in those soundless fields, however, it really hit me how lucky we are to be Americans. We live in a land where a group of civilians who didn’t know each other banded together like brothers and sisters on a battlefield to save our nation’s seat of freedom and democracy. If that doesn’t make you proud to be an American, I don’t know what will.

Today, let us come together like those 40 passengers on Flight 93. Let us be grateful for our freedom, our families, and the faith that gives us an even greater purpose in life. Let us not be defined by our divisions, but the fact that we all play for the same team: the United States of America.

Happy Fourth of July. Let’s roll.

 

Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is the author of the newly released I Have Your BackBe Bold and co-author of Three Wise MenBrothers Forever8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on X @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.

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