Every generation has had its own war – my grandparents had WWI, my folks had WWII. For me, the Vietnam War was the one my friends and schoolmates were called to fight. Now, we’re battling the War on Terrorism. We’ve been engaged for 15 years, and there’s no end in sight.This may be the modern war which carries on to the next generation.
If you’re reading this blog, you probably remember exactly where you were on September 11, 2011 when you first heard about the planes hitting the World Trade Center. It’s one of those events that had such an enormous impact on our lives that it’s hard to remember life before that date.
Flight 93 was unique that day, in that it was probably the only one of the hijacked planes in which all the passengers were likely certain of the outcome of the flight. Aware of the WTC crashes, the passengers gathered, and voted to fight the hijackers.
Can you really imagine that?
Twenty minutes flying time away from Washington DC, the passengers forced their way into the cockpit, fought the hijackers, resulting in the crash near Shanksville, PA.
The Flight 93 Memorial Plaza has been open since September 11, 2011. It’s stunning in its simplicity, and in the symbolism of its design. Forty passengers and crew members perished that day. The names of these heroes are engraved on white marble slabs which form a wall, leading to a wooden gate with 40 facets. The gate guards a mowed path to a large sandstone boulder at the impact site. Forty faceted planes mark the heavy wooden beams of the gate.Already after four years, the white marble shows the discoloration of the many hands that have touched it, and the flowers and memorials that have lined its base. Benches resembling airline seats are scattered around, offering places for rest and reflection. Informational posters are there to remind us exactly what transpired at this site. Moving along, there’s a huge new tree grove – 40 sets of 40 trees each, set in a sweeping arc. It’s beautiful. As the trees mature, it will be spectacular.
On September 11, 2015, a new Visitor Center was opened on site, featuring video and films of the newscasts from that awful day,artifacts, and intimate portraits of the forty passengers and crew who perished that day. Huge cement wings soar off the edges of the VC, echoing the path of the plane as it tumbled upside down into the ground.The photo above shows the view from the Visitor Center down toward the Memorial Plaza. The bright white in the distant center is the wall of names – the sandstone boulder denoting the impact site is beyond that.
It was very difficult to see the films from 9/11 again. As the South Tower of the WTC collapsed, Peter Jennings is heard to whisper “My God”….A flood of memories rushes in. Tiny bits of twisted metal from the airplane are on display – hitting the ground at a 45 degree angle at more than 550mph, the plane disintegrated. The largest piece found was only about two windows wide, and perhaps six feet high. The voice cockpit voice recorder (or maybe the blackbox) was found nearly 25 feet below ground.Most striking, to me, was the absolute silence of all the visitors. Nearly all of us had tears running down our faces, as we relived that day, and perhaps came to a new realization of the heroism of the passengers/crew of Flight 93. We all politely waited our turn for headsets, and exchanged slightly embarrassed glances due to our wet eyes and runny noses. I listened to recorded voice mail calls from some of the doomed passengers/crew to their loved ones. Scared voices expressing love. Overwhelming.
The design of the Memorial Plaza and Visitors’ Center is stark and beautiful. Every facet of the VC and the Plaza aligns the visitor with the path of the doomed plane. In 20 years, as the construction scars recede, it will be even more beautiful.
This is a place which will stay in my thoughts for a long time to come.