On September 11, 2001 forty passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 fought the first battle of the War on Terror. We don’t know, but believe the terrorists intended to fly Flight 93 into the Capitol Building. Because of these brave actions Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA instead of the Capitol.
I have been fortunate to have visited this hallowed ground on three previous occasions. I led the Leadership Development Program for the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps of Engineers from 2008 to 2013. During three of these years, my students and I visited the Flight 93 Memorial while it was being built by National Park Service and the Corps of Engineers. What an experience! We were able to see parts of the site that are not open to the public and hear the inside story of the challenges faced by these organizations.
We stayed at the Friendship Village RV Park near Bedford, PA. It’s a nice park and a relatively short drive to the Memorial. The day we toured the Memorial was overcast and dreary, and it set an appropriate somber tone for our visit. This was the first time that I was able to tour the new Visitor Center. It was quite a contrast from my first visit. Then the “Visitor Center” was nothing more than the pole barn that had been the headquarters for the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI, and the County Coroner during the initial recovery. It displayed some of the initial items recovered from the crash and memorial items left by families of the passengers and crew, and nearby residents.
The new Visitor Center is a building filled with stories. Two huge outer walls trace the flight path of the aircraft prior to the crash. Inside the exhibits include the position of the passengers prior to the hijacking and their general location after the hijacking. This was compiled based on the seatback phones they used to call family. There are transcripts of some of those calls, radio calls from pilots and air traffic control personnel, and excerpts of radio and TV broadcasts. All of these made it real. It brought back memories of that terrible day when I heard the news in real time.
The approximate point of impact is marked with a huge boulder. The story of how the boulder was transported and placed is a testimony to the creativity and dedication to the private contractors, National Park Service, and Corps of Engineers personnel involved. The crash site itself is only accessible to Flight 93 passenger and crew family members.
From the Visitor Center we walked along a trail to the Memorial Plaza. This was constructed before the Visitor Center and memorializes the names of the forty passengers and crew in a wall constructed along the flight path. From the end of the wall you can see the boulder at the impact site.
From there we walked along the walkway through the forty hemlock groves back to the Visitor Center. On our way out of the Memorial we stopped at the Tower of Voices. This was the last part of the Memorial to be built. This tower has a system of forty wind chimes, representing the voices of the passengers and crew.
The next day we drove to the town of Bedford. We had been told by friends that it was a neat town with unique shops, and they were right! We stopped at the Visitor Bureau and picked up a map of a walking tour of the town. A couple of the most interesting stops were:
1. Fort Bedford Museum. This is a reconstruction of the original fort that was built in 1758 and was used as a supply point during the French and Indian War.
2. The Veterans Memorial honoring Bedford men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country.
3. The Lutheran Parish, not for the building but for the six panel door. The door was designed centuries ago to identify a house as a Christian home. The top four panels outline the shape of a cross. The bottom two panels depict an open Bible with the spine of the book in the center.
4. The most unique building was the Coffee Pot. In 1927 it was built in the shape of a coffee pot by Bert Koontz to draw business to his gas station that was next door. It served ice cream, hamburgers, and Coca-Cola. In 2004, in order to preserve it, the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor (a historical organization) moved it to its present location.
On Friday we drove to meet some friends from Key West who live nearby in Hollidaysburg. Nelson and Kim are great friends and after a tour of their home, served up a terrific dinner. Nelson is an accomplished musician and we often play together in Key West, I have learned SO much from him!
The campground hosted a Bluegrass Festival on Saturday and I was able to listen to couple of bands, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Sunday, September 27th we headed down the road to Joint Base Andrews, southeast of Washington, DC.