A Fitting Memorial

By Mark

Howdy Folks, as threatened or promised here is Part II of our weekend in Pittsburg.  While we were driving up to the wedding we saw the road signs for the United Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, PA.  We decided that it would be worthwhile to make a detour on our way back home. 

On the morning of 9-11-2001, United flights from all over the country took off.  Flight 93 from Newark, NJ was headed to San Francisco on that Tuesday Morning.  Because of heavy volume at the airport, it left the ground about 40 minutes late.  That delay made all the difference.  Sometime after takeoff, the 4 onboard hijackers killed a first class passenger and entered the cockpit, killing or incapacitating the crew.  They herded the remaining 37 passengers and crew to the back of the airplane.  The plane then turned around and headed for Washington, DC.

Because of the late takeoff, the other 3 airplanes had already hit their targets. Some of the passengers used the onboard air phones to report their delay and because of this, learned that this was no “ordinary” hijacking.   The people on board decided that they were either going to take the plane back, or at least stop the terrorists from completing their plot.  They boiled water in the coffee pots, pushed the carts up the aisle and attacked.  From the cockpit audio, (this flight was the only one where the black boxes were recovered intact), we know that they almost made it.  The terrorists tried to severely roll and bank the aircraft as well as putting it into a steep dive.  Apparently they had their own instructions and they chose to crash, right where they were.  They inverted the plane and drove it at a -40 degree down angle into a field among a huge grove of hemlock trees in rural Pennsylvania.  The impact created a huge hole and since the plane still had so much fuel onboard, the fireball burned half of the trees away.  Within 15 minutes Police, Fire and Rescue were at the scene, but all they could do was to put out the flames. 

The site has now been declared a National Memorial and a permanent facility is still under construction and won’t be finished for a few years.  

They have done a fine job building the initial pieces, all of which will be incorporated into the final design.  There is a low black stone wall marking the path from the parking lot to the main memorial.  It sort of zig-zags along in a seemingly random fashion, but it marks the outer limits of the debris field.  They have converted the temporary yellow tape into a more lasting and somber walk.  

Out in the center of the debris field, there is a large granite boulder.  It marks the main impact point where the airplane hit.  Although they managed to recover enough remains to positively identify all of the passengers, crew and terrorists, the force of the impact and the heat of the flames mean that the entire area is still a final resting place.  

Finally, at the end of the walkway is a white marble wall composed of 40 panels.  People leave personal remembrances and tokens at the wall.  

Each panel holds the name of one of the people on that flight.  The wall is aligned towards their final flight path. At the other end of the path, and only 125 miles away is the Capitol of the United States.   “Let’s roll” was one of the final words heard by family on the ground.  They did, and we as a nation are grateful for their sacrifice.