The rural Pennsylvania landscape rolls by, green hills and valleys turning to deep reds and yellows. The road passes a few small farmhouses and businesses - an auto repair shop, a farm-stand overflowing with pumpkins, a gas station and convenience store, a couple of abandoned buildings for sale.
Signs for the Flight 93 National Memorial are small, brown and rectangular, positioned low alongside the road, not easily seen unless looking for them. Eighteen miles off the Pennsylvania Turnpike Somerset exit, the site overlooks the countryside.
Turning off Highway 30, the road meanders 3.5 miles through a new federal park to Memorial Plaza. Young trees dot the landscape, the early stages of forty forest groves rising from the ruins of two debacles - decades of strip mining and the 9/11 plane crash - one grove for each Flight 93 victim, symbols of life and renewal.
Terrorists carefully planned the attacks, but could not control all factors. Flight 93 left Newark airport 25 minutes late. The four terrorists aboard commandeered the plane. Passengers frantically contacted family and authorities on cell phones, and heard the horrifying news of the other planes that crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers.
I cannot imagine the fear, rage, and disbelief every individual on that plane felt. Ordinary citizens confronting extraordinary circumstances, they managed to come together - men and women, black and white, Republicans and Democrats (no doubt both parties were represented), maybe an Independent and Libertarian or two, young and old, probably the affluent and less so. Realizing time was short – 18 minutes flying time to Washington, D.C. - they quickly formulated a plan and went into action.
The results, tragic for the victims, prevented a fourth plane from striking an American landmark in Washington, D.C., believed to be the Capitol building where the Senate and House were meeting.
I am surprised by the number of people at the Memorial Plaza on this weekday sunny, warm September afternoon. Two busloads plus a parking lot full of Pennsylvania plates, with a sprinkling of states near - Ohio, New Jersey, New York - and further afield - Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan.
People wander around in groups of twos or threes, reading sign boards and walking along the path to the Memorial, a white marble wall inscribed with the names of the 40 victims. Muffled voices are heard, men shoot pictures with large mutli-lens cameras, and people linger, staring at the peaceful, bucolic fields surrounding the Plaza and the scenery beyond. The events of that day years ago seem surreal amidst this serene environment, but the names of the real victims stare at us, shining in the golden sunlight.
The Memorial is probably the closest our country comes to a national holy place.
Hub and I detoured to the Memorial on the way home from spending time with friends. We are lucky to lead busy lives, working, traveling, enjoying family and friends. The people on the 911 planes were busy leading their lives too, on business trips, looking forward to going on vacation or returning home from vacation or visiting family...but their lives were cut short, innocent victims of fanatics stirring up not only their world, but ours too.
It is difficult to put our Western-educated heads into those whose lives, history and culture are very different from ours. We find it difficult to understand a people governed by hate, who believe their hatred of a particular country and culture gives them permission to arbitrarily kill random people living in that nation.
A part of our world is plunging into a Dark Ages engineered by leaders who drag many of those close kicking and screaming into their sphere, while determined to annihilate perceived enemies near and far.
People who do not believe and do not understand the essence of our country's values - life, liberty, pursuit of happiness - who kill the opposition and do not value anyone's life, who find liberty an idea threatening their existence and the pursuit of happiness a Western fantasy - win some battles, but will never win the war for our hearts and our minds.
I do not mean a war of traditional bombs and bullets, but a war of ideas and ideals, cultures and values and life.
Unfortunately it will be a long war, and we are war-weary.
But a visit to Shanksville gives us pause.
We remember and realize we have no choice.
|Viewing flight 93 crash site from Memorial Plaza|
|The wall of names and|
the new Visitor Center under construction.