When the volunteer ambassador told us that this Pennsylvania ridge stands only 18 minutes by air from Washington, DC, I again marveled at the devotion that cost the lives of those on Flight 93 and spared the Capitol while Congress was in session. The last 30 minutes these 40 heroes lived must have been horror-filled moments, time when no one would have blamed them for self-absorption. But some of the men devised a plan, led by Todd Beamer’s now famous war cry, “Let’s roll!” A lesser known story involves a flight attendant’s phone call asking her mother’s advice. Even if some passengers could gain entrance to the cockpit, the terrorists had knives while the crew possessed no weapons. Her attendant’s mother suggested boiling water to throw on the terrorists. Americans facing death showed such valor, heroism, and selflessness. These characteristics deserve our thanks and esteem. We need to remember these civilians who fought so bravely.
The United States plans a three-phase memorial near the crash site and will buy 2200 acres for that purpose. But to embed in head and heart what happened here, we wanted to see this hallowed ground in its stark simplicity, wind whistling over our heads. Walking slowly around the area, we read the names on the benches, the sentiments written in granite as well as in pencil; we gazed at the firemen’s and police officers’ helmets. Mementos left here come down regularly, receiving cleaning and storage for future placement in the memorial. To date over 34,000 items have been left.
Inside the adjacent shelter, we read the transcript from the flight recorder and shuddered at the horror of the conceived plan that, thankfully, was not completed that day. New York City and DC had already sustained such tragedy. Then we lifted our eyes to the flag flying in the distance, the flag that marks the actual spot the Boeing 757 slammed 40 feet into the ground. Since survivors consider that place a cemetery, the general public does not have access to the area. Today’s crowds revealed a predominance of retirees, Yet, we hope that students and families with young children will also visit here. The Parks service hopes to break ground for the memorial November 1, and complete phase one by the tenth anniversary in 2011.
Turning to leave, we know we have stood on hallowed ground today. One memorial stone summed up my thoughts as we drove away on this clear fall day, an October 21 that resembled the weather of a September day eight years ago. “For our heroes of 9-11-01: Never forget them lest we be attacked again.”