Saturday, July 28, 2012

Flight 93 National Memorial Monument

     My brother, Frank, walked the grounds with me at the Flight 93 Memorial Monument

Outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I visited the memorial monument to honor those who died in the crash of Flight 93 on 9-11. Two phases of the work are complete as of now (July, 2012). The third, and final, phase has yet to begin. It was a hot and humid day and the sun beat down hard on those who walked about the grounds.
by Charlie Leck

It was a moving experience. I felt a great silence stirring troubling memories around inside me. I held back the tears, but I found it difficult to say anything to my two brothers, who walked with me, because of the lump in my throat.

It’s a great, open field of tall grasses and wild fescue, which on this day were blowing gently in the strong breezes, where one goes to visit and remember the events of 9-11 and the passengers of flight 93.  The massive, sloping hillside was once a strip mine where coal was harvested. A large junkyard, where old, unusable pop and snack vending machines were collected, was in a sizeable area in the northwest corner of the property. The plane, on that clear, beautiful September morning, came right in over a couple of fellows who were working among the junk, separating out some of the good and useful parts of the machines. At that point the plane was belly-up and doomed to crash. The roar of the plane, as it passed above them at over 500 miles-per-hour, was deafening. Then, the aircraft smashed into the ground and the earth shook and a ball of black smoke rose into the sky as if a bomb had gone off. The sound was heard for miles away; yet, none who heard it understood the significance of what had happened.

A brave group of passengers had probably saved the lives of dozens – or hundreds – or thousands – of other people who were the target of the crazed terrorists who had kidnapped control of the plane. A number of the passengers had received cell phone calls from people who knew they were in dangerous skies. The calls told them of the hijackings of three American Airlines planes and the disastrous crashes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was clear to the passengers that there was no hope. The plane was 18 minutes flying-time from the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C..

A big rock stands in the crater that the plane made that day. From a memorial wall and gate, one can look down on it – out there, a hundred feet away. The wall holds the names of all those passengers and flight crew who perished. A walkway leads to a tall, slatted gate where it keep viewers respectfully back from the final resting place of the passengers, far from the target that the frightful hijackers had established.

One cannot help but interrogate one’s self about such courage. Would I have had it? Knowing full well that I would die anyway, would I have charged those kidnappers and attacked them, purposefully trying to bring the plane down so that it could not make it back to its intended target, wherever that might have been? One senses that each visitor is asking himself/herself the same agonizing question. In that sad, quiet moment, I tell myself that I would have – that I would have joined them when I heard the command: “Let’s roll!”

It’s a beautiful spot out there in western P-A. Beautiful! The National Park Service has made it so meaningful and it expresses clearly the mournful grieving of the entire nation. I am proud of this place and of those passengers and I feel engulfed by grief for them.

A visitors’ center is yet to be built – up there where the junkyard was – where the plane first came in over the field, flipping and flapping and then rolling over on its back as it fell to its doom. A walkway will extend down hill, following the plane's flight path. And they will build a 93 feet high tower also. It will have a wind-chime for each of the passengers and crew. I imaged, as I grieved that day, what it will sound like to future visitors who come to this spot. How contrasting to the sound of the plane colliding with the earth!

In a hundred years, will the gruesome event be forgot? Will people stop coming here? Will it no longer matter to young people that a group of brave passengers acted for their fellow countrymen?

A Minnesotan – Thomas E. Burnett – was among those who charged the terrorists. He had spoken to his wife via his cell phone and told her of the plan. I passed by his name on the memorial wall. With my fist, I tapped the engraved letters of his name as reverently and gratefully as I could. He was too young to die and he had a loving wife and children.

I’m grateful that my brother brought me to this spot – this place of history and reverence.

In the faces of visitors one could see both great mournfulness and awed appreciation! (Photos below by Charles Leck)

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