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The 9/11 Anniversary Draws Attention to the Flight 93 National Memorial, an Extraordinary Work in Progress


Flags at Flight 93 temporary memorial. Photo by Jeff Kubina via Flickr.

On this, the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the print and broadcast media are flooding the nation and the world with stories of the 9/11 events and their aftermath.

One of the most compelling stories is that of Flight 93, the hijacked United Airlines passenger plane that terrorists intended to crash into a Washington, DC target (The Capitol? The White House?), but which ended up crashing instead in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in Somerset County about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It was the only one of the four planes hijacked that day that did not reach its target. The others crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

As nearly everyone is aware by now, thanks to myriad articles and some vivid dramatizations (especially the movie Flight 93), a larger tragedy in our nation’s capital was averted by the brave actions of the crew and passengers who defeated the terrorists and died in that crash. Their ordeal and their heroism, embraced in the famous phrase “Let’s Roll!”, has become the stuff of legend and a source of inspiration to a grateful nation.

It was right and proper that Congress should have authorized a national park for the crash site, and quickly. Established September 24, 2002, and designated Flight 93 National Memorial, the park now consists of a 2,200-acre tract of bowl-shaped terrain that includes the actual site of the crash.

Without a doubt, many people who relied on today’s news to “catch up on the goings-on" at Flight 93 National Memorial were surprised and disappointed to learn that there is only a temporary memorial on the site. Seven long years have gone by since Flight 93 crashed. Why, then, is there only a Temporary Memorial on a hill near the crash site? Why do visitors – about a million of whom have visited the site so far -- find only a 40-foot long chain link fence draped with some flags, hats and other memorabilia, plus a small National Park Service hut, some marble plaques, and benches inscribed with the names of those who died? Why is there no permanent memorial?

The answer is that creating a memorial like this takes time and money -- a lot of time and a lot of money. Park advocates hope that the permanent memorial can be completed by 2011 for the tenth anniversary commemoration. The cost is estimated at $58 million, of which about $30 million is to be raised from private sources. Few will be shocked if the final tally is a lot higher than $58 million.

The winner of the heavily publicized international design competition, which garnered more than 1,000 entries, was announced three years ago this month. This winning design, “Crescent of Embrace,” was subsequently revised to a generally circular shape. This revision was done not only to better conform to the bowl-shaped terrain, but also to negate criticism forwarded by conspiracy theorists and some others who insisted that the crescent might intentionally or unintentionally serve to provide recognition for the terrorists (since the hijackers were Muslims, and the symbol for Islam is a crescent).

The memorial’s design –including the initial version -- has received strong support from Families of Flight 93, Flight 93 Memorial project partners, the Superintendent of Flight 93 National Memorial (also see this site), and many other agencies and organizations.

When completed, the permanent memorial will have a number of distinct symbolic components and aesthetic features. The circular Field of Honor forms the heart of the memorial and the park, framing the large open space enclosed by the bowl-shaped terrain. The Entry Portal on the northwestern side of the Field of Honor frames the part of the sky from which the plane descended in its fatal plunge. The Sacred Ground, the focal point of the Field of Honor, is the place where the plane crashed and where the victims’ remains are buried. There will be a Tower of Voices containing 40 wind chimes, one for each of the Flight 93 passengers and crew members, as well as 40 Memorial Groves (red and sugar maples). The Western Overlook situated at the western edge of the Field of Honor, is where the FBI set up its command post for the crash investigation, and where families were first brought to see the crash site. Completing the layout are ponds and paths within the Field of Honor.

For further details about the design, visit this site. For an especially poignant narrative by the architect, see this site. Details of the Memorial Construction Phasing Plan are also available for your perusal.

The park and the community host gatherings and ceremonies each year at this time to commemorate Flight 93. This year’s main commemorative service, which took place at the Somerset Alliance Church on the evening of September 10, paid tribute to the Flight 93 victims and honored the Families of Flight 93 and the Flight 93 Memorial project partners. In addition to speeches and music, there was a reading of the names of the passengers and crew by members of the Families of Flight 93 as well as local residents who provided assistance at the crash site on and after September 11, 2001.

Ceremonies held today at the Temporary Memorial included the traditional reading of the names of the Flight 93 passengers and crew, tolling of the Bells of Remembrance, and laying of wreaths.
Everybody involved looks forward to the day when these ceremonies and remembrances can be held at the permanent memorial’s Field of Honor


I don't remember the exact details, but its also my understanding that the NPS normally recommends that a minimum period of time (5 years?) elapse before a National Park is set aside related to a particular event - but the NPS made a special exception in this case in recommending that the Somerset site was clearly deserving of National Park Status.


P.S. Its good to be back... ;-)

Yes, the creation of the park immediately was the right thing to do, despite all the good and important NORMAL reasons to wait for a decision by a future generation before dedicating a new national park.

But, there was NO need to leap right in and build a big memorial structure, or sculpture, to accompany the creation of the park.

This truth is illustrated by the fact that today, attempting to mimic the success of the Vietnam's Vet memorial, we -- as a culture -- have a knee-jerk response to build something as the memorial to each crisis. The knee-jerk quality, the lack of imagination on the alternative ways to best commemorate Fl. 93, demonstrates the wisdom of waiting at least a generation before building a monumental sculpture.

But, all memorials do not need a structure, or monumental sculpture, to be incorporated into the memorial park. ESPECIALLY not one on the scale going into Fl. 93 NM. For example, Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence, RI, a national park dedicated to religious and civic tolerance, is a garden. The Fl. 93 landscape is a lovely setting, and a perfect place by itself without ornamentation for the public to contemplate the significance of 9-11 and the actions of the passengers on this aircraft.

There was no serious contemplation of the parkland itself being the memorial. We should not limit our imagination or alternatives to the knee-jerk, one-size-fits-all-response to every national crisis.

Bob, thanks for the links, as well.

But reading through the links of Park Service support for the memorial design, I must say it is a shame when an NPS superintendent is reduced to having to make such a personal presentation of who she is and what she believes.

Public servants should never be required to present themselves as personalities or advocates as if they were elected officials, political appointees or celebrities. A project is not "about" the public servant; they are our employees and should simply be implementing public direction through Congress and the Executive.

Whether the $58 million cost of a project is disproportionate, should be a separate question from the personal beliefs of a public servant. We either need leadership in the Park Service, from the Director of the NPS or the Secretary of the Interior, or perhaps only from the Commission and the families of Fl 93, to defend the project in these terms. This sort of thing should NEVER be the job of a park superintendent. Someone else needs to step up, like the Director.

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