In Your Own Words - AFSD John Bell reflects on 9/11

Monday, August 30, 2021
9/11 Essay photo

As we approach the 20th anniversary of September 11, TSA would like to rekindle that national unity and remind the next generation about why we serve. We asked TSA employees to submit a personal essay on how 9/11 impacted them, and how that has translated to their service to country and commitment to the TSA mission.  You can view all essay submissions by visiting the TSA 9/11 iShare from a TSA computer.


It was a 3-hour drive on some remote roads in Pennsylvania. After spending the last hour driving to the top of a ridge, I was going down a narrow two lane road and nearly missed the turn, as it was marked with only a small wooden sign that had a plane with "Flight 93" written on it. I went over the gravel road hill and there was an open field with a small trailer sitting in the middle, with not another soul in sight.

Surrounding the trailer were several dozen monuments and memorials brought from all over the world, to be left at this hallowed ground. License plates from every state, mementos from other countries, painted rocks, prayers, granite monuments and more. I spent over an hour just walking around and reading all the words, taking it all in. 

Another person showed up and unlocked the trailer. I went in and spoke with them, to discover they were a citizen of the town, who volunteer their time to talk to those who make the trek out here and tell then the story of that fateful day. From its take off in Newark to the phone calls made from the passengers and Todd Beamer's direction to his fellow patriots “Okay, let's roll!", this lady spoke the story like a true historian and as if it had only happened yesterday.

I asked, "Where exactly did the plane crash?" She pointed out in the field, near a tree line and you could barely make out an American flag on the fence, containing the actual crash site. I can remember standing there and just staring for a while. So long that my personal guide had made her way back into the trailer and I never knew she left. I turned to head toward my truck and begin my journey back home, when the reality hit me. There were benches for visitors to sit as they observe the area. What I didn't realize was on the front of each bench there was the name of each of the 40 victims of United 93.

Seeing those names made it much more real than I was prepared for. I just sat and wept. Even today, 13 years later and 20 years after the attacks, I can feel the emotion when I write these words.  I hope I always will.

Shanksville, Pennsylvania was a place no one knew on September 10, 2001. Much like the small feed mill town I grew up in, it was a place that you would blink your eyes and miss the one sign on the road welcoming you there. But, just as Shanksville lost her innocence that day, so did we.  Our lives were forever changed. Although my words cannot do justice to my experience of that trip, maybe the pictures I took will do better. May we continue to give our greatest effort as a tribute to those who began the war on terror above that quiet field.