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September 23, 2011 > Dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial

Dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial

By Daniel Swiger
Photos By Daniel Swiger

The nation remembered and honored the heroes of Flight 93 on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011. The most vivid and abiding memories are of two planes crashing into the Word Trade Center Towers, witnessed by many, live on television. While barely grasping what was happening, news that another plane had targeted the Pentagon emerged. Lastly, a fourth plane, with hijacker's demands, then reports of a crash in southwestern, rural Pennsylvania were announced. This plane, San Francisco-bound United Airlines Flight 93, did not reach the terrorists' intended target on the U.S Capitol because the flight had been delayed by more than 25 minutes and the passengers were already aware of what had happened in New York City and at the Pentagon.

Several courageous passengers and crew hatched a plan and sought to wrestle control of the plane from their hijackers. Many view these actions as the first battle in the War on Terror. "Let's roll," the words of passenger Todd Beamer, have become a battle cry and epitomize their initiative.

Hayward resident and former Marine Michael L. Emerson organized the San Francisco Bay Area's Flight 93 Memorial, which was funded entirely by donations of land, material and labor and dedicated on December 8, 2007, at Sugar Mill Landing Park, Union City (www.93Memorial.com). He was invited to join the Steering Committee for the Flight 93 National Memorial which is the only part of the National Park System that relates the history of 9/11 and includes the crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Planning for a permanent memorial at this location began a year after the tragedy. On September 10, 2002, Congress passed the Flight 93 National Memorial Act which President George W. Bush signed two weeks later. This established the Flight 93 Advisory Commission which comprises family members of the 33 passengers and seven crew members, who gave their lives, local residents and officials, national figures and a National Park Service representative. The commissioners make recommendations that reflect and respect their desires and sensitivities to the Secretary of the Interior. Other partners for this memorial include Families of the Flight 93, The Friends of Flight 93 and the Flight 93 Memorial Task Force.

The Memorial's design is the result of an international competition; Paul Murdoch Architects was selected in 2005. Construction will be completed in three phases. So far, The Flight 93 National Memorial Campaign has raised $52M of the estimated total $62M cost from public and private sources; more than 72,000 private donors in all 50 states and in 24 countries beyond the United States account for $20M.

On November 7, 2009, the Memorial broke ground; completion of Phase 1 construction was marked by the Memorial's dedication on September 10, 2011. Thousands from across the country and around the world attended the ceremony. Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden recounted the remarkable heroism, national symbolism and the need to honor the passengers and crew of Flight 93.

The original memorial was maintained at the Western Overlook, where a chain link fence separated the visitors from the field at some distance from the crash site. Family and visitors would leave flowers, toy animals and other personal tributes at this spot which is now retired.

Memorials to Flight 93 do not start at the park's gate. The surrounding communities are a continuum of tributes, flags and signs to honor the heroes. The Flight 93 Chapel, a mile away, was opened in September 2002 and provides a place of reflection for families and others. The community has taken this personally and has been hospitable and generous to the visiting families.

This newly dedicated Memorial consists of 400 acres surrounded by a buffer of 1,800 acres of wetlands, forest and mining country. Its elements connect the visitor to this now peaceful land, providing a place to reflect and embracing the sanctity of the site. Those entering through the Visitor Center are greeted by a long, low black wall that separates the visitor from the Field of Honor on the left. Benches along the path provide a place to sit and reflect. Beyond the wall, a gentle slope leads down to the crash site, covered with native wildflowers, and surrounds the land over which Flight 93 flew before crashing.

Follow the wall for 100 yards, and Flight 93's point of impact comes into view on the left. This is Sacred Ground that can only be visited by family members and is marked by the placement of a 17 ton boulder where flowers and wreaths are often placed. A hundred yards further, the wall transitions to tall white marble; this is the Memorial Plaza, the main public assembly area. A gap in this section of the wall is filled by a roughly hewn, wooden gate through which family members can pass. Past the gate, the Memorial Wall of Names begins, consisting of 40 white marble memorial panels each engraved with a hero's name.

Completion of Phase 2 construction is expected in 2014; trees will encircle the Field of Honor which will also be flanked by 40 Memorial Groves, each with 40 trees, to represent the passengers and crew who were lost. An Entry Portal 40-50 ft. high will frame the sky where Flight 93 once flew and approximate the low altitude of the plane as it passed overhead. Visitors pass through here for their first view of the crash site.

The final phase will add a 93 ft. tower with wind chimes, set among the trees and visible from the highway. It will mark the entrance to the park and be heard for miles.

Actions of Flight 93 heroes, like the Battle at Gettysburg, are a national symbol. For their families, this means sharing their private grief with the nation. This is difficult for some; others embrace it and look forward to returning when the Flight 93 National Memorial site will be a quiet, spiritual place to visit. Every year, many local residents join the 130,000 visitors to the site and the September 10, 2011 dedication offers them closure. A firefighter from Wisconsin, uncomfortable with being called a hero, came to honor these heroes.

The Flight 93 National Memorial is the only September 11 memorial that remains to be fully funded and constructed. Memorials at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center are funded and opened to the public in September 2008 and September 2011, respectively. Private funding is needed to complete the vision for the Flight 93 National Memorial. Major sponsorship opportunities for key features, such as the Visitor Center, 40 Memorial Groves and Entry Portal, are available. There are grassroots and public engagement programs for donors at all levels.

For more information about the Flight 93 National Memorial and Flight 93 National Memorial Campaign, visit www.HonorFlight93.com where donations can be made online. Donations of $10 can also be made via mobile devices by texting "Memorial" to 90999.

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