An enormous stone marks the corner of a grass-covered field that former presidents spoke of Saturday in the same breath as Yorktown, Gettysburg and the Alamo.
A low, angled black wall separates the public walkway from the stone and the reclaimed field near Shanksville, where 40 passengers and crew members died while trying to retake United Airlines Flight 93. It is where the last of the 9/11 terrorists failed. It is where the U.S. Capitol was saved.
“What happened above this Pennsylvania field ranks among the most courageous acts in American history,” said former President George W. Bush during the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial.
Thousands turned out for the ceremony — family and friends of those who died; former Presidents Bush and Bill Clinton; Vice President Joe Biden; House Speaker John Boehner; U.S. Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey; former Govs. Tom Ridge and Ed Rendell among them — which made these 2,200 acres the 389th piece of the National Park system.
What sets this hallowed ground apart from other great American battlefields, Clinton said, were those who fought there.
“They gave this country an incalculable gift,” Clinton said. “They did it as citizens.”
Among them was Calvin Wilson’s brother-in-law, Flight 93 co-pilot Leroy Homer. Wilson said he was awestruck by the comparisons to some of the most heroic acts in U.S. history. More meaningful words, however, came from his son Camal, now 20, who said after seeing the memorial that “he now understands what I’m doing all these years.”
Shanksville is a place apart from the other battlegrounds of 9/11.
This is no metropolis, no capital, no neat grid of pavement lined with steel and glass. The two-lane blacktop leading to the memorial winds through a rural Somerset County that looks like every place nobody ever heard of — places that are home to a few and ignored by the rest. Signs along the road advertise maple syrup and warn of deer crossings. They mark churches called Grace and New Hope. It is the great middle of America, vast and quiet.
“We came here devastated, nearly broken. Our lives had changed in an instant,” said Gordon Felt of Remsen, N.Y., president of the Families of Flight 93, while welcoming the crowd to the site where his brother Edward P. Felt died. His family first visited here nearly a decade ago.
By “opening their homes and hearts to the families in our time of grief, the community has embraced this memorial project with all the dignity, the grace and honor I’ve come to realize is pervasive here in Southwestern Pennsylvania and across the commonwealth to Harrisburg,” Felt said.
FBI Agents Jack Shea and Andrea Dammann arrived here 10 years ago today to pick through the wreckage of the plane. They returned yesterday to raise over it the flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on 9/11.
“President Obama is coming (today). I’m sure every president from now on is going to come here. This was where we first fought back,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless. “It has a poignancy.”
That poignancy drew Donna Wisniewski of Philadelphia to the site for the first time.
“I always wanted to come here because I think they were so brave, the people on that flight,” said Wisniewski, who cried with her sister Cissy Kelly as they gazed out at the field.
Bush, Clinton and Boehner agreed yesterday to host a fundraiser in Washington to help come up with the $10 million needed to complete the $62 million memorial. The money will go to build a visitors center and museum.
“He had quite a way of announcing that,” Jerry Bingham, father of Flight 93 passenger Mark Bingham said with a chuckle at Clinton’s spur-of-the-moment fundraising drive. “He’ll get my vote next year.”
Kevin VanHorn, 53, and his grandson, Kollin Myers, 11, of Lebanon, Ind., were so determined to attend the dedication that they ditched their car and avoided the traffic backup by walking the last five miles. VanHorn offered the owner of the land where he parked $20, but “he wouldn’t take it.”
His grandson was just 1 when terrorists attacked 10 years ago.
“Not to take anything away from Kollin, but he has no concept of what happened. It was more important for him to be here and see the commemoration of those 3,000 lives and how it changed the world,” he said.
VanHorn said he visited the World Trade Center in August 2001.
“I just had to be here,” he said.
As visitors walked past the sloping black concrete walls of the Memorial Plaza, many stopped to take pictures of the crash site, marked by that boulder less than 100 yards away.
Along the pathway nearest the crash site, visitors left candles and flowers. One unsigned drawing by a child read: ‘I am sorry you died, Uncle.’
After a Navy brass quintet played “America the Beautiful,” Biden told the crowd that he was “astonished” by the courage the passengers showed.
“They were already heroes to you,” Biden told the families. “They were the father that tucked you in bed at night. They were the wife who knew your fears before you’d even expressed them. They were the brother who lifted you up. They were the daughter who made you laugh. They were the son who made you proud.”
J. P. O’Connor, 55, teaches about those heroes in his fifth-grade class at Shanksville Stoneycreek Elementary School, not far from the crash site.
“It’s not about facts and figures. It’s about who they were, what they did,” O’Connor said.
Bush closed his speech by quoting from a predecessor’s address given in Gettysburg nearly 148 years ago, when Abraham Lincoln spoke of actions that would long outlast the words that praised them.
“So it is with Flight 93. For as long as this memorial stands, we will remember what the men and women aboard the plane did. We will pay tribute to the courage they showed. The sacrifice they made and the lives they spared,” said Bush, whose wife, Laura, was in the Capitol on the morning of 9/11. “The United States of America will never forget.”
Phil Stern, 36, of Boswell returned to the memorial nearly 10 years to the day after he rushed to the scene when the plane went down. He was only a few miles away when he heard of the crash.
“It’s almost like everything coming full circle to me,” Stern said as he looked at the crash site. “Two years ago, there was nothing here, and now you have this memorial. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
Quotes from a dedication
“Twenty-five hundred years from now, I hope and pray to God that people will still remember this.” — Former President Bill Clinton
“What happened above this Pennsylvania field ranks among the most courageous acts in American history.” — Former President George W. Bush
“My prayer for you is that, 10 years later, their memory can bring a smile to your lips before tears to your eyes.” — Vice President Joe Biden
“This is the final resting place of the crew and passengers of Flight 93, and we have worked hard to insure that it is treated with the proper care and respect.” — Gordon W. Felt, brother of United Airlines Flight 93 passenger Edward P. Felt and president of the Families of Flight 93
“9-11-01. A day of courage, a day of fear for those brave souls that we honor here. God bless America. Let’s Roll.” — A message on T-shirts that Dan McGinty, 59, had made for the friends and family who joined him on a bus trip from Conschocken for the dedication; passenger Todd Beamer said, “Let’s roll,” before passengers and crew made their desperate move to take back control of the plane
“If it had to happen any place in the country, I can’t think of any place more family-oriented than right here in Shanksville.” — Larry Catuzzi, father of Flight 93 passenger Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas
“I consider it a cemetery. I can feel her spirit.” — Carole O’Hare, daughter of passenger Hilda Marcin
“I’m very grateful — grateful to be part of this, grateful to be here today and see all the commitment to the project.” — Paul Murdoch, memorial architect
“It is very emotional for all of us.” — Doreen Anzinger, retired United Airlines flight attendant who flew with Flight 93 attendants Lorraine Bay and Wanda Green out of Newark International Airport, now Liberty International Airport, for years
About the Flight 93 National Memorial
• The memorial is located off Route 30 outside Shanksville, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.
• Paul Murdoch Architects, based in Los Angeles, designed the $62 million memorial.
• $52 million has been collected through public and private funds, leaving $10 million left to raise. The initial phase, dedicated on Saturday, cost $22 million. It contains a low, angled black wall that overlooks the crash site. The centerpiece is the Wall of Names, a white marble wall lined up along the plane’s final flight path. It leads toward the crash site. The name of each passenger and crew member is inscribed on a slab of marble. They are equal size, but each stone has unique veins.
Donations are being accepted at www.honorflight93.org
9/11: Flight 93 National Memorial
The permanent memorial in Shanksville, Somerset County, was dedicated on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011.
9/11: Pentagon Memorial
It honors 59 victims aboard American Airlines Flight 77 and 125 people inside the Pentagon.