Friday, August 21, 2009

Flight 93 National Memorial - Let's Roll

Nestled in the hills of southwest Pennsylvania is a National Park site, simply known as Flight 93. I have been trying to get to this site for the last 2 years, not for the INK, but for some other compelling reason. Flight 93 is where the fourth plane on 9/11 that was taken back by passengers from the terrorists and forced down in a field near Shanksville, PA. It is presumed the flight was headed for the White House or the Capitol. The crash site is a reclaimed coal strip mining site.

We came out of Somerset, PA on PA 281 and made a left turn on some road that took us thru Shanksville. As we passed thru this tiny hamlet, I turned to MeAsWe and commented, “Can you imagine what the people must have thought that saw the plane overhead”. We turned onto Skyline Rd, which leads us to the site. The road to the site, while paved it is not the smooth tarmac. More like one of those back country roads, where the tar ends and turns into an unimproved surface. I remember passing a scrap or junk yard on top of a small hill.

The sight is very underwhelming visually, but equally overwhelming emotionally. We pulled into the gravel parking lot and dismounted. The Visitor Center is nothing more than a larger garden shed. Inside the shed is equally as sparse. This site is manned by 2 volunteer National Park people and a security guard. The women ranger pointed out the books on the shelves that were the transcripts of the final moments. I grabbed a Flight 93 brochure, stamped our books and began reading the transcript. It was at this moment I could feel the emotions welling within me.

From the shed, I walked outside and found MeAsWe looking at a wall that people leave mementoes. As you can see many of them are caps. As you move closer you can see various pins, coins and other small artifacts that are placed on the framed 4X4 structure. I walked past various marble and stone monuments that must have been sent to the site by various groups and individuals to commemorate the sight. As you pass and read each one of these monuments the solemness of the site takes over and it is as if you are the only one there. You find yourself fighting back tears for people you did not know. It is not a feeling of sadness per se, but more of a more overwhelming feeling that something very important happened here that somehow changed your life for reasons unknown to you.

The volunteer gathers the crowd and gives a little talk about what happened here at the field, who were involved and what the plans for the future is for the site. The speaker with a white binder in hand begins to tell the story of Flight 93. He makes this very personal by talking about individuals on the flight. He talks about one of the flight attendants and how she was not suppose to be on this flight, but was subbing for a fellow flight attendant as he points to her picture in the binder. He tells another story about one of the passengers who was probably involved in the retaking of F93. Another story about another person was given. He admits that some of the story is hypothesis and conjecture, but never the less it gives a great perspective that these people were just like you and me (his words). This talk is about 20 minutes long.

After the talk I walked around the site with more knowledge about the significance of the events that occurred that day at this site. I peered out into the field that was some 400 yards away that has a flag marking the crash site where much of the remains of those 40 heroes and 4 villains remain to this day. One is not allowed down to the actual crash site. As the volunteer said, “it is now sacred land”.

There is one monument that starts “let’s roll”, words used by Todd Beamer, his last audible words during cell phone conversation from Flight 93. Let's Roll has become the battle cry for the fight of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

1 comment:

PatnWilton said...

Bill, your words brought tears to my eyes and when I read “it is now sacred land” it brought back more than I can tell you. Andy and I made our way to Ground Zero one year after 9/11. What we thought was a “trip” left me knowing in my heart that it was a pilgrimage. For the mementos that were left by thousand of people let you know in no uncertain terms that these places are indeed “sacred land.”
Well written. Thank you.