Sunday, September 9, 2012

Flight 93 Memorial

Quite by accident we ended up at the Flight 93 Memorial on Saturday of this Labor Day weekend. For various reasons, we had not taken a ride on the motorcycle since the beginning of July and we were really looking forward to going on a long ride. The weather was not looking good but of the three days in the holiday weekend, Saturday held the most promise. And it appeared that heading northwest from Frederick, MD was the best bet.
I mentioned that I'd read The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough, and that I knew there was a Johnstown Flood National Park there that might be interesting to check out, so we headed west in that direction. Once we reached Rt. 219, we headed north towards Johnstown and that's when we saw a sign that said "Flight 93 Memorial Highway." We checked the map and saw that if we headed east on Rt. 30 it would take us to the Flight 93 Memorial.
As we entered the town of Shanksville, Pa we started seeing a lot of other motorcycles turning into the Flight 93 National Memorial - which is maintained by the National Park Service. The drive leading up to the park is a couple of miles long. As you survey the area it dawns on you just how far away from the road this place is. It's incredibly remote and must have been difficult for responders to even reach this place.
Coincidentally, all the other motorcycles were part of the "Brothers for Flight 93 Memorial Ride" that rode from Philadelphia to Shanksville that day. There must have been fifty other bikes. When you walk up to the entrance you are greeted by a sign that reminds visitors of the somber nature of the memorial and to act accordingly. And there are exhibits by the Visitors Shelter that tell the story of Flight 93.
Some distance away from the Visitors Shelter, on the other side of the parking lot was a cordoned off section called "1st Amendment Zone" where there was a lone gentleman with a table and signs that said, "9-11 Was an Inside Job." Presumably he had literature to pass out along those lines. I was glad that they had made a space for him away from the actual memorial.
After we walked around and read the signs, we walked up the beautiful granite walled Memorial Plaza. It was so quiet even with so many people there. Every few feet, there were little ledges cut into the black granite where people had left mementos and notes to honor those killed there. After the first few feet, I found myself reaching out for John's hand. And off to the left in the middle of the field was a mound of grass backed by a grove of hemlock trees. In the front of the mound were several small American flags. I was struck just by the simplicity of it. That was it. There at that mound was the center of the crash - where at 10:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001, a plane crashed at 563 m.p.h. killing all 44 people (including 4 hijackers) aboard. We stood there just looking out and holding hands. I noticed alot of people doing the same. There was a need to hold on to another life while taking all this in.
Crash site, pictures of the victims, mementos left at Memorial
At the end of the Memorial Plaza is a beautiful white marble wall. The wall is set up in the same direction as the flight path. Etched into the marble are the names of those 40 passengers that died that day. The brochure says that 13 cell phones made 37 calls in the moments after the plane was hijacked. I wonder how many of those calls were placed for those passengers that didn't have phones. During the 35 minutes between takeover and crash, these brave men and women made a decision that would take their lives and save countless others. At the end of the marble wall there are openings that give you a direct view of the mound in the field from the exact direction of the flight. It is chilling.
I immediately saw names of the three men that led the counter-attack.
As we walked back up the Memorial Plaza, we took a moment to look at some of the mementos left on the granite wall. One note, paperclipped to a small American flag, read, "You are all heroes. Thank you for your courage. You fought for all of us." And another person left a guitar pick. Before we got back on the bike to take the long winding path back to the main road, we took one last look back at that hill of dirt in the field. We didn't plan to go there, but I'm so glad we did. I think about the families that lost so much back then and I remember picking up my daughter from her 1st grade class that day. I didn't want her to hear about this from anyone but me. So young, so innocent, I wanted to hold her in my arms and keep her safe. Amazing, it seemed like only yesterday, but she started her senior year of high school just last week.
 As we turned back on to the main road, the skies opened and we rode home in the rain. We spent the next three hours soaked to the bone as we rode through the storms, but it just didn't seem appropriate to complain.