LEWISBURG — United 93, one of four commercial aircraft hijacked and crashed Sept. 11, 2001, failed to reach its intended target.

Instead, it came down in a field near Shanksville, Somerset County, after passengers resisted hijackers they believed wanted to crash the plane into a high-profile target.

Keeping the legacy of the United 93 passengers and crew intact has become a passion for Dr. Alexander Riley. The Bucknell University professor of sociology and anthropology spoke Monday night to a Susquehanna Valley Conservatives meeting.

Riley noted that phone conversations passengers had with family members on the ground indicated they already knew that hijacked planes had been steered into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. United 93’s target could plausibly have been the White House or the US Capitol building.

Riley said remembering the unity of purpose shown by passengers that day has drifted in the nearly 18 years since those events. He attributed it to cultural conflict in which political correctness has become mainstream.

But books published by the spouses of Todd Beamer and Tom Burnett, two men who died trying to take the plane back, were noted by Riley as recommended reading.

“Todd Beamer became the most known because he spoke the words, ‘Let’s roll,’ that President Bush made a trademark if you will of the aftermath of 9-11,” Riley said. “Beamer tried to call his wife, who was pregnant at the time.”

Riley mused that the resistance of the passengers and crew may have muted the celebrations of the al-Quaida organizers of that day’s attacks.

Riley added that criticism among bloggers of the design of the official Flight 93 memorial near Shanksville is without merit. He described how it tracks the last moments the aircraft was airborne and how sanctifies the ground where the plane hit

More personal was Riley’s remembrance of the Rev. Alphonse T. Mascherino and how the late “Father Fonzie” was inspired to buy an old church in the area near the crash site. He turned it into a memorial chapel which was annually used for a service.

Riley quoted one of Mascherino’s memorial talks, in which he cited the faith of the United 93 passengers and the nation during and after the attacks.

“After they found that they were part of this plot to destroy the United States, in one half hour, 40 strangers got together and they decided they were going to so something about it and they did,,” Riley read. “The said the Lord’s Prayer and they prayed Psalm 23 and they didn’t have time to say to each other what church to you go to?”

Riley was critical of Rep. Ilan Omar (D-Minn.) for speaking insincerely about the 9-11 attacks and apparently seeking to expose a professor who she said was critical of Islam. The comments were made in a 2013 interview, before Omar was elected to Congress.

Staff writer Matt Farrand can be reached at 570-742-9671 and via email at matt@standard-journal.com.

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