It was one of those morning flights. Routine. The ETD went up on the computer screens along with all the others.
The airport didn't have a familiar name like LaGuardia or Kennedy, Logan or O'Hare, but was lesser-known Newark. Just a footnote to New York, like so much of grimy North Jersey across the Hudson.
The passengers on United Flight 93, the regularly scheduled morning flight from Newark to San Francisco, drifted by or dropped out or rushed over at their own pace, each in their own state of composure or hurry.
From here on in, they could leave the driving — or rather flying — to others. To the pilots, flight attendants, ground crew, air traffic controllers. … They were in that strange country called In Transit, or call it life in pause.
When it happened, word got out phone call by phone call. Fred Fiumano, who ran Fred's Auto Repair in Queens, picked up the phone to find an old friend, Marion Britton, on the line. She was sobbing. Her flight had been hijacked, she told him, and two people aboard had already been killed. “They slit their throats.” It's one of the details that stays in your mind, and gut, even a dozen years later.
It's something else to remember if and when the trials begin for some of our cosseted guests at Guantanamo, with their regular exercise periods, certified diets, prayer breaks … all of them treated like prisoners of war even if they're not. Even if they're illegal combatants. The kind who don't wear the uniform of the enemy, if it has one, and who slit women's throats with box cutters. Oh, brave jihadi!
The cowardice, the bloodthirstiness, the death worship of these fanatics … all of those provide another reason to vow never to imitate them, but to do justice without a trace of vengeance, by the book, without passion or malice. Cold, correct, legal. For we are Americans, and have a civilization to defend, not dishonor.
There were 40 Americans aboard United 93 — two pilots, five flight attendants, 33 passengers. All ordinary people, we would be told, who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances, and rose to the challenge. But looking over their concise biographies, a newspaper columnist who needs and wants to write about them, who must write about them, especially today of all days, realizes anew that there is no such thing as an ordinary American.