Tower of Voices dedicated Sunday at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge remembers the deafening sound he heard when he arrived at the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The sound at that moment took my breath away,” Ridge said Sunday afternoon. “It was louder than the Army Chinook helicopter that brought me here. Louder than the gaggle of TV crews that began to surround me. And louder still than the piercing sirens of those emergency vehicles that rushed to the scene, hoping to help.”
“It was a brutal and sometimes, I think, unbearable sound of silence, of quiet,” Ridge said.
His remarks came during an hourlong dedication ceremony at Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County for the final piece of construction.
The Tower of Voices stands 93 feet tall and will have 40 wind chimes to represent the voices of 40 passengers and crew members who were aboard the airplane during coordinated terrorist attacks when it crashed in a grassy Stonycreek Township field.
Ridge, who later became the first secretary of Homeland Security, called the tower an “everlasting concert” of the 40 heroes’ voices that will speed across trees, etched stone and wildflowers with a gentle wind.
“Their music will calm and comfort us,” he said.
Family members rang eight of the 40 chimes during the ceremony, sending a variety of musical notes through the raindrops.
The remaining chimes are expected to be added by early fall.
Dozens of umbrellas dotted a crowd that had gathered for the ceremony under steady rains. People splashed through puddles and wiped off folding chairs as the tower loomed behind a stage of speakers near the park entrance from Route 30.
The tower weighs 274 tons and is made of concrete and steel, said Stephen Clark, superintendent. A walkway winds around a mound of earth on which the tower sits.
The chimes are 8 inches in diameter and range in length from 4 to 10 feet, he said. The heaviest weighs 150 pounds.
The $6 million tower is funded by a National Park Foundation grant. More than 200 trees were planted around the tower and a pollinator garden is growing across the street.
Families of Flight 93 president Gordon Felt said it was an “eerie” feeling to hear the chimes ring for the first time. His brother, Edward, was aboard Flight 93.
“Sure, it’s raining, it’s cold, it’s very uncomfortable here today. But to put it into perspective, think about what our loved ones did 35 minutes at the end of their lives, fighting,” Felt said. “Whatever we have to face to see this memorial through is nothing compared to what they had to face.”
It’s been a marathon to get to the final phase, said Calvin E. Wilson, whose brother-in-law, First Officer LeRoy Homer, was aboard the plane. Various local, state and national groups worked together to get to this point, just like those on the plane did to wrest control of the plane away from terrorists believed to be aiming the plane at a target in Washington, D.C., he said.
“A partnership was formed and that started with the community,” Wilson said. “You all embraced us, accepted us and made us feel at home.”
Families will gather at the park again Tuesday to honor their loved ones on the 17th anniversary of the attack.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.