Near Shanksville, PA — Nestled within the serene, rolling hills of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands sits a somber reminder of the horrific terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. At 10:03 am on that date, 40 innocent passengers and crewmembers were killed in the crash of United Flight 93 into what had previously been a tranquil farm field. The four terrorists who hijacked the flight were intent on reaching Washington, DC but a heroic struggle by the passengers prevented them from reaching their destination. Led by passenger Todd Beamer, they stopped the terrorists but were unable to save themselves and the airplane. Todd’s words, “Let’s roll,” were heard over a phone line as he rallied the passengers to confront the hijackers.
As everyone knows, flight 93 was one of four commercial flights hijacked that day; the others crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people, the deadliest terror attack ever on US soil.
Early on an August morning, I wheeled my Harley Road King into the parking lot of Flight 93 Memorial. Clouds hung low in the sky; I saw no other visitors at this early hour.
The memorial was to be my last stop on a tour of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands—a 2,900 square mile, three-county scenic area nestled in the Laurel Mountains of southwestern PA—for Harley-Davidson’s HOG magazine.
The temporary visitor center building had just opened for the day, but first I followed the sidewalk to a chain link fence overlooking the crash site. The tall grass swayed in the morning breeze; the workers on bulldozers in the field before me had just begun their workday. The Flight 93 National Memorial is a work in progress–the first phase of which is scheduled to be dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the tragedy later this year; anticipated completion date is 2014. A memorial plaza and wall inscribed with the names of passengers and crew members will overlook the crash site itself, which will remain untouched.
It’s difficult to describe the emotions I felt while standing at the fence. Anger, confusion, and sadness might begin to describe them, but those words are far from sufficient. The people murdered that day didn’t deserve what happened to them; although the terrorist strikes were directed “at America,” the people that died in the attacks on 9/11 were both civilians and emergency workers, natives of more than 70 different countries, with families, hopes, dreams and aspirations. It’s hard to imagine the kind of hatred and sheer lunacy of such an act. The adage, “Freedom isn’t free” came to mind, and I realized that no matter your political point of view, living in this country we have a lot to be thankful for, and we owe a special debt of gratitude to those who defend it.
Visitors have placed mementos—flags, wreaths, notes and other items—at the chain link fence overlooking the site. While I was there, a park ranger collected some of the items, including a Harley bandana, from the fence : he told me they will go into a permanent tribute collection that already consists of over 40,000 items.
I strolled back to the visitor center. The temporary building houses exhibits which include photographs of the smiling faces of the innocent victims, helping to put a human perspective on a senseless tragedy.
Park hours are 9:00 am through 5:00 pm in the winter months, and 9:00 am through 7:00 pm in summer.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Click Here for Directions and Address for GPS
Flight 93 Memorial (National Park Service website): http://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm
Flight 93 National Memorial Campaign (Nat’l Park Foundation): http://www.honorflight93.org/
Click Here for Live Webcam of memorial site
Click Here for Flight 93 Memorial site plan PDF