On Sunday, Larry Weber, who recently retired as pastor of the Grace Brethren Church, Waynesboro, Pa. (Tim Clothier, pastor), presented the keynote address at the 9/11 Memorial Service in Chambersburg, Pa. The event was held at Letterkenny Army Depot Chapel and Franklin County Veterans and 9/11 Memorial Park in Chambersburg. It is reprinted here with his permission.
Col. Hagan, Dr. Harper, Rabbi Green, Very Rev. Rodriguez, Dr. Harter, Col. Cullinane, and honored guests: thank you for the distinct privilege of delivering the Keynote Address.
Of all the memorials to people and events in our history, the hallowed grounds of Valley Forge, Gettysburg and Antietam, the Flanders Fields of Europe, jungles and rice paddies of Asia, and, yes, blood shed in Washington, D.C., Memphis, Dallas, and Los Angeles are singular reminders that freedom is not free. It costs dearly in blood and treasure.
The Lincoln Memorial honors the 16th President, along with numerous cities named for him, including Nebraska’s state capitol. You may also have memorials to Lincoln in your pocket; namely, the penny, or the five-dollar bill. We are a short distance from the Lincoln Highway that runs just north of the site of the Flight 93 impact which is the reason we are so gathered on the 13th anniversary of September 11, 2001. We remember the nearly 3,000 souls slain by terrorists’ treachery in the deadliest attack on American soil by a foreign entity ever.
Like me, I am sure you know exactly where you were, and what you were doing when three commercial airliners were flown intentionally into two symbols of United States financial and military might — the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked aircraft failed to reach its presumed target, most likely, Washington’s capitol dome.
United Airlines Flight 93 was brought down at 10:03 a.m. in a non-descript field in Somerset County, killing all passengers, crew, and terrorists.
I lived at the time less than two miles from the point of impact near Shanksville. The Boeing 757 had turned upside down before plowing into the ground at a speed of 563 miles per hour, exploding 7,000 gallons of jet fuel into a huge fireball. The resulting black plume of smoke and debris was captured in a photo taken from the porch of a nearby resident.
Members of my family who were gathered at my home heard and felt the boom shake the foundation like an earth quake. My son closed all the blinds, not knowing why.
At that moment, I was in St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Somerset, handling final details for the funeral of my wife. I was near the end of a two-year battle with prostate cancer. My wife of 42 years had died on this date, September 7, after fighting lung cancer for a year. We opened her memorial service at 5 p.m. that evening with a moment of silence for the nation numbed by terror.
The very next day my sister, too, died of cancer in Philadelphia, which prevented me from joining a crowd of 5,000 on Friday, September 14, 2001, that filled the streets surrounding the stately Somerset County Courthouse. I did attend a local concert that fall which featured a guest chorus from Alexandria, Va. Citing their home near the Pentagon and their close proximity to Shanksville, they sang an impromptu memorial to 9/11 that night.
The scribbled notes on my program that evening became the outline for the 9/11 Flight 93 First Anniversary Memorial Concert in Somerset on September 11, 2002. It was my privilege to produce and perform in that program.
In Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare opined, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” Several people stand out for me as heroes who had greatness thrust upon them that day.
Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Jeremy Glick and other passengers on Flight 93 fought back. Their bravery brought down the plane, hastening their deaths, but their bold courage prevented a greater disaster for the Capitol just 20 minutes flight time away was occupied by Congress. A Somerset businessman told me within days of the 911 assault that those passengers were the first resistors to the war on terror.
I must tell you about two Somerset County citizens. Rick King of the Shanksville Volunteer Fire Company was first on the scene. He owns the little Ida’s Country Store (where you can still get a generous hand-dipped ice cream cone for less than a dollar!). His training never prepared him for what he saw in the 40-foot-deep crater, but the on-going response of Rick King and his colleagues was equal to the challenge they confronted.
The second is Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller whose dignified determination to secure the site, and then to guard and identify the remains of every person on that flight, enabled their families to arrange appropriate burial and memorials. Calling the site “sacred ground,” he earned the lasting gratitude of the families, the community, and the nation.
Wally Miller and Rick King exemplify ordinary citizens — volunteer firefighters, EMTs, police, medical personnel, and counselors — who respond to disaster with dignity, grace, and valor. Plain citizens opened their homes to lodge strangers, prepared meals, and honored – yes, memorialized – those who “more than self their country loved.”
Ancient Scriptures speak of memorials of tassels, bread of affliction, meat offerings, grain offerings, memorials of stone, and even of a rainbow. God in heaven “remembered” Noah, Abraham, Rachel, Joseph, and many others in their affliction. We also heard as read from Psalm 111 that God remembers His Covenant, His mercy, and His Truth. You heard, too, the Gospel (Mark) description of the woman who anointed Jesus for death with very expensive oil.
Some protested her extravagance, but Jesus said her act was to be “a memorial spoken of her in the whole world.” Days later, the Savior offered his life as a unique sacrifice for the world. The resurrected Jesus intercepted a well-known rabbi named Saul of Tarsus. He immediately confessed Jesus as Lord. Renamed Paul and called to be an Apostle, he abandoned his persecution of Jesus’ followers, and wrote much of the New Testament. In his 2nd letter to the Corinthians (3:3), we read about “letters, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Moments ago, I mentioned the patriarch, Joseph. If you are not familiar with the story, listen to what happened when his father, Jacob, died. His brothers were fearful that he would retaliate against them for their past wickedness in selling him into slavery. “No, no, no,” he replied. “You planned it for evil, but God planned it for good.”
While despicable terror most certainly is planned for evil, rest in the faith that God, who plans everything for good, will reveal His glory ultimately. The personal loss I felt upon the death of my wife was erased when God surprised me with the love of Nancy, who has been my soul mate and helpmate for 11+ years. The greatest evidence that God brings glory out of evil is the gift of His Son to bring eternal life to all who believe in Him.
When ordinary persons render authentic service to broken, hurting, sick, poor, forgotten, and dying souls, their noble deeds are celebrated by all. Their gallantry is a memorial written on their hearts for those who give their lives for our freedom as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
I believe Americans are sickened by the evil thrust upon us by Islamic terrorists who have declared “holy war” against our “unalienable, God-given rights.” We cannot – we must not — stand by idly in the face of suicide bombings, beheadings, and vicious fanaticism of unrestrained evil. Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Todd Beamer’s clarion last words, “Let’s roll,” should be our bugle call to confront the present evil that calls itself “the Islamic State.” America may be “war weary,” but let every leader know that we must destroy this barbarism with unflinching determination to prevail.
Abraham Lincoln’s eloquent Gettysburg Address stirs us to act: “It is for us the living … to be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced … it is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Today we honor those who died on September 11, 2001, and every momentous event of our history. As a people free to pursue “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” let us resolve anew to serve God and the cause of freedom He gave us by loving righteousness and defending justice. Let us write on our hearts these words selected from Psalm 103:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
“The Lord … knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
“As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
“But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. … “Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Amen. And Amen!