That is the crude, raw, unvarnished bottom line of the report from the 9/11 Commission.
They wrote, bipartisan and unanimous: "The institutions charged with protecting our borders, civil aviation, and national security did not understand how grave this threat could be, and did not adjust their policies, plans, and practices to deter or defeat it."
In an analysis article for the Washington Post, David Von Drehle pointed out the only thing that worked on 9/11.
"Only a small band of civilians, strangers to one another -- without benefit of staff meetings, bylaws, uniforms or task forces -- communicating by cell phone with loved ones who happened to be watching TV -- managed to figure out what was going on in time to thwart a guided-missile attack on Washington.
Brave passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 forced hijackers to crash the plane into an empty field far short of its target."
The word "hero" is over used these days. We slap it on just about anyone for just about anything. But it has to apply to those people who charged the cockpit door, were thrown away by the hijackers jerking and jenking the plane -- and who charged again.
The cockpit recorders caught it. Twice the hijackers prayed to Allah. Twice their prayers were ignored. Still the Americans charged the cockpit. In the first battle in a War Against Terror, the terrorists surrendered to American civilians. They crashed their missile miles short of their target.
The passengers and crew of Flight 93 deserve the title "heroes" -- and they deserve more.
I know, because I'm a survivor of Flight 93.
On the first anniversary of 9/11, a speaker pointed out that Flight 93 didn't include only the people on the plane. Flight 93 includes the people on the ground who never died -- thanks to the desperate stand of a handful of heroes.
On the morning of 9/11, I was at the US Capitol. I would have been there, in the open, when that plane slammed into the Capitol -- had it not been for the actions of the Americans on that plane.
As administrations and agencies spin the stories to cover themselves, the heroes of Flight 93, and their sacrifice, go almost unmarked. We now have a 567-page report on what went wrong. We have nothing to honor those who did what was right, even though it cost them their lives.
As his handlers paint President Bush as a hero in the War Against Terror, flying him onto carrier decks to declare "Mission Accomplished," he has ignored the mission that a brave handful of Americans accomplished in the first battle of the war.
The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian.
President Harry S. Truman created it to honor civilians who acted heroically in World War II.
President John F. Kennedy revived it to honor Americans who have contributed greatly in peacetime.
President George W. Bush, on June 18th announced 13 people who would receive it this year. His list included Doris Day, Rita Moreno, Arnold Palmer, and Estee Lauder.
He has never named a single passenger nor crew member of Flight 93 to the list.
The passengers and crew of Flight 93 deserve the Medal of Freedom.
What's more, the place where they gave their lives to save American lives in Washington should be among our most sacred soil. But the Bush Administration, holding to a promise not to create more memorial land, has balked at making the Flight 93 crash site a national cemetery.
As Abraham Lincoln said on another Pennsylvania field where Americans held their ground and broke the will of another enemy:
"It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here."
As an American, who stood in the open on Capitol Hill when a guided missile was headed there and our government failed us all -- I think it's the least we can do for those who did their all.