Flight 93

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.20151020_08545120151020_08593920151020_085801 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.20151020_093150Already 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.20151020_085721 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.20151020_09161820151020_091655 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.20151020_08440520151020_100529The 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.20151020_10245620151020_103558Most 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.

History Lessons

More than any of our other trips so far, this one has been all about absorbing history. As we head into Southcentral Pennsylvania, this isn’t about to change.

Our headquarters for two nights is Harrisburg East Campground, where we pay an astonishing $50/night for two nights. The WiFi setup is very lame, working only sporadically in the very early morning hours. We don’t have a television, so the expansive cable service is unused. And for some ridiculous reason, we can’t hook up to the sewer. But, this place did have one of the nicest bathrooms we have found, and the location was perfect for exploring Harrisburg. So, here we are….

John has mapped a bicycle route into town, and off we go, After a short hairy stretch involving an Interstate underpass and no bicycle lane. we find ourselves on the Greenbelt, a non-motorized path which leads us into town. Whew. A decaying neighborhood of row houses is along the path. When you see an area like this, don’t you always wonder what is must have been like in its heyday? I sure do. 20151016_130501Although Harrisburg probably has lots to offer visitors, our list was short – the State Capitol building, National Civil War Museum, and a brewpub. If nothing else, we are predictable. First up is the Capitol.20151016_11575920151016_120604Adjoining the Capitol building is the Services building. I actually laughed out loud walking inside – it looks like a cheesy Vegas casino – all teal and peachy colors with cold, high ceilings. Truly, this was one of the most absurd public buildings I’ve ever been in, and my expectations for the Capitol building itself were lowered. But, all of the sudden, we’re in an old hallway with massive chandeliers. Hmmmm, Pennsylvania is redeeming itself. Suddenly, we’re in the rotunda, and like everyone else, we gasped. 20151016_121158I wished I had the nerve to lay on my back an get the photos I really wanted to capture, but I restrained myself (John helped). Gold leaf, marble statues, words of wisdom about truth and science – it’s all here. The visual treat goes on and on. 20151016_12125820151016_12170320151016_12211620151016_123016We notice a tour group heading into the House of Representatives chamber, so we file in with them. Oh, to be an elected official, and go to work there every day! I was unable to get any photos, as the room was dim, and we were trying very hard to blend into the group. (We tried to catch them later, as they went into the Senate chamber, but the door slammed just ahead of our noses, and our polite knocks went unanswered).

We had better luck in the Governor’s office, where John patiently waited for about three minutes for the man to show up. In vain. Maybe it was the yellow jacket?20151016_124523

The Civil War Museum sits atop the Greenbelt, and overlooks the entire city and Susquehanna River Valley. It’s an impressive sight. 20151016_14310620151016_143306We watched videos, examined artifacts, and explored the dioramas of the Civil War, explored from both the position of the North and the South. No matter how hard I try to understand the position of the South, I cannot get my head around ownership by one person of another. That’s about all I can come away with from this experience.20151016_13301020151016_132815All this history stuff leaves a couple of Northerners with a powerful thirst. Lancaster Brewing Company, here we come. The beer was tasty, but the coolest thing was the Rolling Stones pinball machine. 20151016_15212820151016_152000Oh, how I want one of those at my house!

We head toward a new campsite at Caledonia State Park, our headquarters for exploring Gettysburg. Checking in on a Saturday, the campground is a madhouse – trailers and tents absolutely jammed into this tiny chaotic park. We could only get a non-electric site, and John considers winterizing the Fireball, since the temperature is supposed to dip into the 20s for the two nights we are there. Fortune shines on us though – as we are pulling in, our neighbors are packing up. Busted tent poles, surly teenagers and a sick baby are more than this mom can handle. So, their electric site becomes ours. Yay! This photo was taken Sunday afternoon – when we returned from visiting the Military Park, the entire campground had cleared out. Another yay!20151018_180547Early Sunday morning, we drove to Gettysburg Military Park. Our plan was to hit the Visitor Center, watch the movie, then bicycle through the battlefield auto tour. The film, narrated by Morgan Freeman is a perfect start for exploration. For me, it’s helpful to see a visual plotting of troop movements and battle lines. After the movie, we viewed the fully restored Gettysburg Cyclorama. This painting is 372 feet long and 42 feet high, mounted in a circular dome. First shown in Boston in 1884, it’s amazing.20151018_11411120151018_114230 The Museum is another place where we could have lingered for hours. We truly rushed through way too quickly, in order to catch a glimpse of everything there.

It’s cold and windy, but getting around by bike is still the best way to view the Park, in our opinion. I really cannot get my head around the misery of the Civil War.  At Gettysburg along, 7000 men were killed, another 30,000+ were injured, and thousands more were missing or captured. In just three days. So, I’ll just close with a few photos. You really must visit Gettysburg yourself for this history lesson.20151018_12510220151018_14074720151018_13240620151018_13240620151018_13084420151018_13162420151018_143530And, when you’re in Gettysburg, make a stop at Gettysbrew. This brewery has to win the contest for most unusual site for a brewpub ever – the building originally was a Civil War hospital. Interesting spot, with okay beer.20151018_153013