Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial

On the Sunday evening after Malice Domestic, I met with two friends and their spouses for dinner.  In addition to being friends, Paul Sledzik and Marilyn London are forensic anthropologists who have helped me a great deal with research.  Without their help and that of others in their profession, Bones could not have been written.  That aside, they are among my favorite people on the planet.

They asked me about my itinerary now that Malice was over.  I told them that I would be getting up early the next morning and driving to the Pittsburgh area, meeting a cousin for lunch, and then going on to a set of events for the Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA, sponsored by the Mystery Lovers Bookshop.  Early the next morning, I would head back to the Washington, D.C. area, to catch an afternoon flight from Dulles.

"Oh, you'll be going near the Flight 93 Memorial," Paul said.

From others, these might have been casually spoken words.  But Paul and Marilyn were on the D-MORT team sent to Stonycreek Township, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  As clearly as any of us remember that time, few of us think of it as they do.  I know they and other responders were deeply affected by their work.  I also know that as they worked, those at the site of the crash of Flight 93 carried an awareness of the heroism of the passengers and crew.

United Airlines Flight 93 was one of the four planes hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.  It is believed that the plan of the terrorists was to crash it into the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was in session.

Because of heavy traffic, the flight's takeoff was delayed about 25 minutes.  By 9:28 AM -- the probable time the terrorists incapacitated Captain Jason M. Dahl and First Officer Leroy Homer and took over the plane -- the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had already taken place.  When the passengers on the flight called their loved ones, they learned of those events, and determined to do all they could to regain control of the plane.  We know from their conversations with their loved ones that they took a vote and rushed the cockpit.  In the ensuing struggle, the plane crashed at 10:03 AM into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard.  Because of their courageous actions, countless other lives were spared.

As great as our grief is for those lost on that horrible day, as hard as it is to think of what they must have endured, we can only imagine the chaos and further pain caused if the plans of the terrorists aboard Flight 93 had succeeded.  The U.S. Capitol is only eighteen flight minutes away from the crash site.  They were -- we all were -- eighteen minutes from what would have undoubtedly been an act of mass murder on an even larger scale.  These passengers and flight attendants made their decisions and fought back and sacrificed their lives all within about thirty minutes.  In that much time, they changed the way the story of Flight 93 ended.

So after talking about it with Paul and Marilyn,  I decided to visit the memorial.  On Tuesday, as I drove from Pittsburgh toward Virginia, I exited the turnpike and let the GPS take me most of the way, enjoying the scenery until I lost faith in satellite guidance, and followed signs to the entrance.

For those who have never visited the Western Pennsylvania countryside, let me tell you that it is incredibly beautiful.  Rolling green hills, mountains, sunlit valleys, woodlands filled with tall trees of every shade of green.  There are rivers and creeks and covered bridges, small towns and big wooden barns.  Good and helpful people.  Its history until recently had been most closely tied to the founding of the country, not the confounding of modern terrorists.  It is a place of serenity.

So is the memorial.

The development of the memorial is still underway, and I found myself glad to visit it in its current phase.  In some ways it matches the wound — not quite raw, not fully healed.  A straightforward, stark place of honor and remembrance.

Beyond the black wings of a low-walled pathway is a field that stretches toward a stand of hemlocks.

There is a boulder there, by which small flags -- the type you might see in a cemetery on Memorial Day -- have been placed.

It is a cemetery -- the remains of the crew and passengers still lie in this field.

There are a few places along the pathway where niches are cut and memorial items are left by visitors.

 A butterfly rested near one of these while I was visiting the site.

The pathway leads to the white marble Wall of Names.

Here are the names, each name carved on one stone (clicking on the names below will take you to brief articles about each person, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2001):

The crew:
Captain Jason M. Dahl
First Officer Leroy Homer
Flight Attendant Lorraine G. Bay
Flight Attendant Sandy Waugh Bradshaw
Flight Attendant Wanda Anita Green
Flight Attendant CeeCee Ross Lyles
Flight Attendant Deborah Jacobs Welsh

The passengers:
Christian Adams
Todd M. Beamer
Alan Anthony Beaven
Mark Bingham
Deora Frances Bodley
Marion R. Britton
Thomas E. Burnett, Jr.
William Joseph Cashman
Georgine Rose Corrigan
Patricia Cushing
Joseph DeLuca
Patrick Joseph Driscoll
Edward Porter Felt
Jane C. Folger
Colleen L. Fraser
Andrew (Sonny) Garcia
Jeremy Logan Glick
Kristin Osterholm White Gould
Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas and Unborn Child
Donald Freeman Greene
Linda Gronlund
Richard Guadagno
Toshiya Kuge
Hilda Marcin
Waleska Martinez
Nicole Carol Miller
Louis J. Nacke II
Donald Arthur Peterson
Jean Hoadley Peterson
Mark David Rothenberg
Christine Ann Snyder
John Talignani
Honor Elizabeth Wainio

They came from as far away as Japan and Germany, as near as New Hope, Pennsylvania.  They were moderate, liberal, and conservative.  They were gay and straight.  They were young and old and somewhere in between.  They were headed home and beginning new adventures.  They were returning from funerals, coming home to newborns, and going to retrieve the remains of a recently killed loved one.  They loved their children, wives, family members, friends, and lovers.  They had hobbies, interests, plans, goals and dreams.  They wrote poems and books and created cartoons.  They did good in the world long before they boarded Flight 93.

As they halted whatever the terrorists planned, their own plans came to a halt.  We move on as they no longer do, but we remember them in a field in Pennsylvania.

I urge you to visit the memorial if you can.  It is a lovely place of green grass, trees, and water. A place of wind and birdsong.  I recorded the sounds, and you can listen to a snippet of that at the link below.  I hope it brings a little of this field of remembrance to you.

Sounds of wind and birdsong from the Flight 93 Memorial

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Remembering John Pagliano

I have lots to tell you about Malice Domestic, the Festival of Mystery, and my visit to the Flight 93 National Memorial.  But first, please allow me to talk about Dr. John Pagliano, someone who made a difference in my life.

When I come home from a week of traveling, there is always a pile of newspapers to be sorted through.  As you might guess, I love newspapers, and consider our subscriptions to the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Los Angeles Times to be very low-cost watchdog fees.  The one lying on top of the pile was LATExtra, the AA section of the Times for Friday, April 27.  Eventually I worked my way to the obits.

I seldom read the obituary section, but when it catches my eye, I become completely engrossed.  I love reading the tributes to loved ones, seeing what is said when entire lives are summed up in a few lines.  Do the families choose photos that were taken recently, or long ago?

The first one was for a gentleman named William George Armbruster.  At one point the writer of the obituary said, "Well Bill, you finally made the 'Irish Sports page' as you called the obituary columns."  I think I would have liked Bill Armbruster.

The obits are in alphabetical order, so it was a while before I had the shock of seeing a familiar name.  John W. Pagliano.  "Sports podiatrist, world class runner, lecturer, father, husband, brother, uncle, passed away Friday, April 20, 2012."

I don't want to give the impression that Dr. Pagliano was a close friend, although he was someone I would have been honored to know better.  I saw him only a few times, as a patient of his practice of podiatry.  He was an excellent doctor, someone who took time with his patients and treated them kindly.  He didn't just hurry in, prescribe, and dismiss.  He explained the problem, treated it, and told you what to do to prevent its return.

He was an internationally recognized specialist in sports medicine and injury prevention, and a well-known runner.  In high school, inspired by Roger Bannister's 1954 world record run -- the first mile under four minutes, a feat some said would never be accomplished -- John Pagliano began running.  It became a lifelong love.  He is in Occidental College's Track and Field Hall of Fame as an ultra long distance runner from the class of 1962.  He continued running -- this 2009 article in Running Times mentions that he was then routinely covering 45 miles a week.  I recently learned that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2005 -- so that adds a little more perspective.  He ran over 100 marathons and ultra-marathons.

His practice of sports podiatry in Long Beach spanned over forty years.  His patients included many of the rock stars of running and other sports.  His articles and professional publications on the subject of injury prevention and treatment made him an icon in the field.  He taught others as well, serving as a clinical instructor at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and elsewhere.

Once I went to see him was when I had been injured while training for a marathon.  I was not a gazelle.  I did not and do not resemble the lithe figures you picture when you say "runner."  I was in that group known in running circles as a "Clydesdale."  Big and slow.  At the starting line, we stay back, let the racers go first, then begin our version of a marathon.  It's all good.   I had an excellent coach, John Loeschhorn.  I could write a lot about the experience, but for now, I'll just say that I knew that running the marathon was an all-day event.  My goal was to finish, not to break any records.  Ideally, to finish before the course closed.  I trained for months, determined to cross that line 26.2 miles from where I started.

Then came the injury.  While the injury itself was painful, more overwhelming were my fears that I wouldn't be able to participate in the event.  Not only did Dr. Pagliano reassure me that I'd be able to do so, he gave me good advice for staying healthy while I continued to train.   When I went to see him in a follow-up visit, I confessed to him that I had a typical first-marathoner's fear that I wouldn't be able to go the distance.  He asked me to tell him the farthest distance I had run in training.  When I did so, he again reassured me.  I can't put this into words, really -- but there was something so calm and certain in that reassurance -- he looked me right in the eye and said with a sincerity I could not doubt, "You'll do it.  You'll make it."

It gave me faith that long outlasted my recovery from the injury.  Many times during my training and that marathon, I thought of Dr. Pagliano.  Although most of his patients were people who would have been able to run the race more than twice as fast as I did, he had never treated me as a lesser being.  I was runner.  I would be all right.

There are so many of us, whether Clydesdales, gazelles, athletes, or couch potatoes, who know we will be all right because of John Pagliano.  I will think of him with gratitude over the distance.

Donations in his memory may be made to:
Dr. John W. Pagliano Memorial Fund
Occidental College
1600 Campus Road
M-11 Tiger Club
Los Angeles, CA 90041
Please contact Dana Valk with questions: 323-259-2678

To learn more about Dr. Pagliano, please visit:
Advanced Foot and Ankle Center, "Dr. John Pagliano, DPM."
Club Ed Running, "A Huge Loss for Runners Everywhere."