Friday, September 20, 2002
Carlisle Comments Field of valor
The first stop on our way home from a trip to Pittsburgh was at the Flight 93 crash site. It was not part of our original plan, but I had noticed on my son's academic calendar that school would be closed on September 11 and recalled that one of the planes had crashed in Pennsylvania. An Internet search found the location and a map of the area, which turned out to be a short distance off our route.
Flight 93 went down in Friedan, between Shanksville and Buckstown, in Somerset County. This quiet corner in southwestern Pennsylvania is the same area where the dramatic rescue of nine trapped miners occurred recently. A set of printed directions is available for the asking at the turnpike tollbooth. It is not far off the highway, but it is easy to get lost on the winding, hilly back roads that lead to the site.
We knew that we were getting close when we started seeing flags and banners adorning the windows and doorways of every home along the rural roadside. As we drove over the crest of yet another hill, the forest opened onto a panorama of grassy slopes and our first glimpse of the memorial. I was horrified because, from a distance, a chain link fence covered with red, white and blue looked like a cheap souvenir concession. However, all commercialism is prohibited and the fence is actually a wonderful display of flags, tokens of remembrance left in a fashion reminiscent of the Vietnam Wall, and, most poignantly, caps left by firefighters, military personnel, truckers, and others.
The day we visited was warm and sunny, just like September 11, 2001. A nice day that seemed like nothing bad could ever happen in such a remote place. Something terrible and incomprehensible had happened though. A force so powerful and devastating that the windows of a nearby farmhouse were blown out and the impact of the plane resembled a bomb crater.
Now a black polished headstone inscribed with the names of all the passengers and crew of Flight 93 pays tribute to those who died. A Guatemalan has placed two massive stone slabs with a dedication that begins, "Let's roll" in the dirt flanking the memorial wall. Behind sunglasses, silent tears are shed, but emotion escapes in the overheard hushed voices. The metal guardrails in the parking area are covered with inscriptions, including my own. All bear witness to the day an indelible scar was left in those fields and our country.
Among the names on the passenger list are those of the mother and stepfather of a co-worker. I stood staring at the restricted area trying to imagine the depth of her grief. Leaving our son in a city so far from home an hour earlier was heart-wrenching, but what I was facing put my feelings into sharp and sober perspective.
Most likely an architect will be commissioned to erect a formal memorial to honor the victims properly. It will be more beautifully landscaped, more dramatic, and easier to find. This is as it should be.
I am glad I had the opportunity to visit just before the first anniversary and before the local farming and mining, which have sustained this rural county, give way to a memorial park. It is not yet a destination in tourist guides and remains essentially as it was on that ill-fated day. For now, those that visit the memorial are mostly ordinary Americans, making a detour off the Interstate, taking an hour of their summer vacation to pay tribute privately to the extraordinary bravery and patriotism of those on Flight 93.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito