February 23, 2016

Visiting the Flight 93 National Memorial - Shanksville, PA

Being a Pennsylvanian, I've long wanted to travel
to Shanksville to see the Flight 93 National Memorial. 
This past autumn, the new Visitors Center opened there, 
which was added incentive to make the trip.

We sadly remember that dreadful day in history: September 11, 2001.
Two planes, hijacked by terrorists, crashed into the 
towers of the World Trade Center and a third hit the Pentagon.

The fourth plane, United 93, was meant to continue the devastation in
Washington, D.C. by most likely targeting the Capitol Building.
After discovering the intent of their hijackers, 
the 40 passengers and crew members decided 
to thwart that plan by storming the cockpit.
The plane crashed into an empty field near Shanksville, PA,
just 18 minutes flight time from its destination.
The Flight 93 National Memorial honors that act of heroism
and pays respect to all who lost their lives that day.

The striking design of the Memorial 
was chosen from over 1,000 entries worldwide.
Its strong symbolism and features were powerful and moving.

We approached the expansive concrete walls via a black granite walkway,
which mirrored the plane's actual flight path.
We were overwhelmed with emotion as we looked above us,
and couldn't help but picture that plane, so close over our heads,
as it streaked to the ground. 

The walkway ends at a glass panel, in which a poignant phrase has been etched:
"A common field one day. A field of honor forever."

From this overlook, we were able to view the crash site.
At the edge of the forest below, a sandstone boulder
marks the place of impact, and the final resting place 
of Flight 93's passengers and crew members.

The boulder can be seen in the field 
where the snow meets the trees
in the center of the photo.

(At the edge of this field is an area known as the Memorial Plaza,
which we will visit and explain in photos to come.)

A close up of the textured walls shows how they were 
designed to resemble the wood of the surrounding hemlock trees. 

Inside the Visitor Center, displays with timelines and artifacts
gave a clear explanation of events of the day.
Recorded phone calls made by passengers to loved ones 
were especially heartbreaking.

How moving to read through the information and be reminded of that awful day.

On impact, the plane was inverted, at a 40 degree angle
and descending at a speed of over 550 miles per hour.
This bronze sculpture shows its approximation to the tree line.
The crater formed was 15' deep and 30' across.

Pieces of the wreckage are on display.

Leaving the Visitors Center, we went down to the Memorial Plaza,
which borders the crash site in the field below.
(In this photo, the Visitors Center is on the right.)

At the end of the walkway is the Wall of Names,
made up of 40 individual marble slabs engraved 
with the names of the passengers and crew members.

The wall, also in line with the plane's flight path, 
provided a place of quiet reverence and reflection.

Faces of heroes.
Such courage was required to move into action in order
to defeat the terrorists' plan of attack on our country's capital.

I looked at each face and name individually,
honoring their memories, and
realizing that mothers and fathers,
wives and husbands, sons and daughters,
brothers and sisters,
were all part of this great sacrifice.

For more information on the Flight 93 National Memorial,
view the National Park Service website.

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