WASHINGTON - Deborah Borza ran her fingers along the raised name of her daughter, Deora Bodley, on the plaque honoring the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93, killed when their plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11.

She does it every time she visits the Capitol.

It was one personal tribute here on a day of gestures both grand and small in memory of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, 13 years ago Thursday.

Wednesday morning began with a ceremony awarding the victims Congress' highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, in a stately event led by the nation's four most senior lawmakers.

Then came a humble thank-you from a gray-haired docent who remembered the fear in the building on 9/11, when many believe Flight 93 would have struck the Capitol were it not for those on board, who are believed to have struggled with the hijackers before the plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

"I owe you folks and your families a debt I can never repay," the docent told the roughly dozen Flight 93 family members who came here Wednesday.

The three medals, presented in the Capitol's soaring Emancipation Hall, honored those killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York, at the Pentagon in Virginia, and in Shanksville. The medals were made at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia.

"Tomorrow, we mourn for what was taken. Today, we consider what was left behind: stories we tell and retell, a legacy we strive to claim, and families we ache to serve," said House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

The audience was silent as soft-spoken Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) recalled the feelings so many experienced on 9/11: receiving word of the first crash at the World Trade Center; believing it would be a news event but continuing on with his morning meeting; and then a sickening realization when the second plane struck. Reid remembered being told to evacuate, that another plane was targeting Washington, and then seeing smoke in the distance, billowing from the Pentagon.

Flight 93 evokes a "special measure of gratitude" from people who were in the Capitol that day, Sen. Robert P. Casey (D., Pa.) said in an interview.

"In addition to paying tribute to them and drawing inspiration, we also express gratitude today - gratitude for what they did to save lives in this building, in this city, and, of course, what they did for America," Casey said in a speech at the ceremony.

He sponsored the bill to give the 9/11 victims the medals. They will be displayed at New York's 9/11 memorial and museum, at the Pentagon's memorial, and at the memorial site in Shanksville.

Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93, said, "The gravity of today's ceremony and its location are most appropriate, and gratefully appreciated."

After the ceremony, Casey and the families visited the plaque near the Capitol rotunda that lists the names of the victims on board. An inscription says their actions may have saved the building.

"It's different" from some past ceremonies, said Christine "Kiki" Homer, a New Yorker whose brother, LeRoy, was Flight 93's copilot. "This is a little more celebratory. It's the nation recognizing the significance and remembering."

Borza, of Columbia, Md., said the honor was not for her, but for her daughter and others. Her daughter was 20, the youngest woman on the flight, Borza said.

Emily Schenkel of Bethlehem, Pa., came in memory of her godmother and father's first cousin, Lorraine Bay of Bucks County. Bay's husband is more private, Schenkel said, so attending ceremonies is her way of honoring Bay's memory.

After so many events, groundbreakings and dedications, Felt, whose brother Edward was on board the plane, said every year is slightly different.

"This is really an extraordinary honor that's been given today," he said. "It's one more tribute, but also a reflection that the story of Sept. 11 is not fading, it's still very much alive. The memories of our loved ones are alive in our hearts. The memories of their actions are alive and being remembered, and that's critical."

After taking photos with the medal and the plaque, the family members left for the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville.

The medal has a storied history. Past recipients include George Washington, Winston Churchill, Joe Louis, Nelson Mandela, Jackie Robinson, Robert Frost, and Bob Hope.

Congress voted in 2011 to award the medals honoring those killed on 9/11. It took years to finalize the designs and present them.

The front of the Shanksville medal reads, "A common field one day, a field of honor forever."

On the back are 40 stars, an image of the Capitol, and these words:

"We honor the passengers and crew of Flight 93 who perished in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001. Their courageous action will be remembered forever."

@JonathanTamari