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.
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.
There are a few places along the pathway where niches are cut and memorial items are left by visitors.
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):
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
Todd M. Beamer
Alan Anthony Beaven
Deora Frances Bodley
Marion R. Britton
Thomas E. Burnett, Jr.
William Joseph Cashman
Georgine Rose Corrigan
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
Nicole Carol Miller
Louis J. Nacke II
Donald Arthur Peterson
Jean Hoadley Peterson
Mark David Rothenberg
Christine Ann Snyder
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