White House


View from the observation deck

Every American remembers where he or she was on September 11, 2001, when they got the news (if they were old enough to be aware of their surroundings.)  I was teaching at a small private school at the time, and it was right before our 10:00 break when the school secretary knocked on my classroom door.  I stepped into the hallway to find her white faced and tear stained.  “Amy, they’ve hit the White House and the Pentagon.  We’re at war.”  No explanation on who and misinformation on events, but the pit of my stomach dropped as I had to turn back, wide-eyed, to face a room full of teenagers blissfully unaware of what had happened.  My dad had done briefings at the Pentagon.  How could this happen?

When the bell rang for our break, we rushed en masse into the computer lab and began frantically googling.  The rest of a school day was a blur–I remember the conversations about whether or not to cancel (We chose no–terrorists will not disrupt our schedule.  Their goal is to make us afraid.  We run away, we let them win.), the phone calls saying to get gas on the way home as it might go up to $5.00 (I got it at $1.81–almost 2 times our norm–the station down the road was up to $3.15.), and the wondering of just what had happened.

Boulder marking crash site

I went home and watched the news for eight hours straight, running back and forth between my rooms and the family I lived with, swapping stories and recommending channels.  I remember how we waited for them to find survivors, hoping and praying. How patriotic everyone was, and how eerily quiet the skies were for the next several days then how weird a plane looked when they finally started flying again.  I remember President Bush’s speeches, one heard standing in a room full of enlisted men when he announces our intention to fight back, and they all cheered.  I swelled with pride at flags hung over buildings and off of equipment, awed by the tireless service of men and women who poured from across the country to help, yet I also felt the sorrow of unimaginable loss–mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children.

In the focus on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, especially trying to find survivors, Flight 93 kind of got passed over.  We mentioned they had fought back and probably saved the White House or the Capital, and Todd Beamer’s “Let’s Roll” became well known, but mostly, they weren’t the main focus.  So, when I drove into Western Pennsylvania and passed the sign, I felt drawn to find out more.

The Museum building

Today (7/30/17), a dear friend who had gone to the Memorial on Friday when it had been packed wanted to revisit, so we went, though it isn’t anything to do with my grant or George Washington.  Yet, since he also chose to fight back–even against insurmountable odds–I think I can still learn something.

The Museum itself is incredible.  Displays contained in-depth information on the passengers, their personal effects, final actions, and lives.  I was riveted by the display that gave transcripts of the cockpit conversations, showing the flight path as the struggle took place.  I had no idea the terrorists had rocked the plane back and forth in an effort to stop the passengers’ assault.  Nor did I realize how many phone calls were made and that the decision to fight back seems to have been unanimous with three passengers even ending phone calls to be part of the attack.  Additionally, I was unaware that the passengers waited to do their attack until they were over a rural area to minimize damage if they were unsuccessful.  Listening to the phone calls left on answering machines, we were struck with how calm these ladies were, usually until the very end.  One even minimized the situation (“We’re having a bit of trouble on the plane.  I’m fine for now…”)

Items left at the Memorial

Because of their foresight, FBI agents quickly realized this site would yield the most information, since there was no debris mixed in with the plane remains–a thought that never occurred to me about the other buildings.  This site is the only one where both the cockpit voice recorder (only one) and the flight recorder (one of two) were both recovered.  You can read the transcripts of the events and voices, but they don’t have the audio available.  But, reading the transcripts while watching the flight simulator is a truly awe-ful (in both senses) experience.  Additionally, they recovered one of the terrorists’ credit cards and handwritten plans/instructions–I can’t imagine how these survived the inferno of a 535 mph impact with 5,000 gallons of jet fuel.  But, this card was the key to tracing the money trail.  There were so many fascinating things to see!  My other favorite stop was being able to get a short biography of each passenger, what effects of theirs were found, and what tributes have been made in their honor.  Two of the most amazing effects to survive (to me) were a man’s NIV Bible inscribed with his name and a woman’s prayer card from her husband’s memorial service.  I’m so glad each person was honored.  We wondered how many visitors who we encountered had loved ones or friends on that wall.

Wall of names with Museum in background

After looking through the Museum, we headed down the approximately one mile meandering walk out to the crash site.  Since it is a burial ground, you cannot walk directly out to the spot, but a large boulder indicates where it is.  Additionally, there is a wall of names and niches along the walkway where visitors can leave tributes.   It’s a beautiful walk filled with wildflowers against a mountain vista–stark contrast to the horror which happened here, and yet another reminder of beauty from ashes and bravery and honor in the face of terror and evil.

It’s a poignant reminder that, as one visitor summarized Edmund Burke’s statement, “‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’  You didn’t ‘do nothing,’ and so evil didn’t triumph.”   May we take from this example the courage to stand against evil wherever it lurks and do what we can to fight it!

 

The White House (Apparently, some visitors think the Capitol Building is the White House–this is what it looks like.)

After a wonderfully relaxing free day (and time for my back to recover…), we got up early (7/15/12) and headed into Washington. We decided to go on Sunday, figuring there would be less traffic to deal with, and we were right
. . . until we got INTO Washington. I can honestly say you couldn’t pay me enough to deal with the traffic, construction, and parking hassles that go with that kind of city. We drove around looking for a parking space for easily a half an hour. Finally, we found a parking meter (free parking on Sunday) by the Daughters of the American Revolution building and set out.

We started out by heading to the White House. We had attempted to schedule a tour, but, though I scheduled a month ahead of time, there were none available. So, for those who are unfamiliar with travel to Washington, you have to book tours through your local Congressman–they recommend a month ahead of time–in our case, that wasn’t enough, even with the two-week window we gave them for possible tour dates.

Smithsonian Castle–We didn’t visit, but it’s a cool piece of architecture!

After the White House, we headed to the Smithsonian. This amazing group of museums (19 in all) could easily take all day. As we were standing in line to get in, one of my students remembered he’s wearing his knife. It’s a pocket knife that belonged to his grandfather which he wears all the time, so it had completely slipped his mind that he had it on. “Well, we’ll see.” I said. Before we even got to the check point good, the man asked him for it. We asked if he could leave it there and pick it up on the way out. No dice. “You have two options,” the man told us, “You can take it back to your vehicle and come back, or you can leave.” Sigh. The car was a good mile and a half away easily. “I’ll take it to the car.” He decided. “Grab lunch,” I said with a smile (our lunch bag was in the car.) Lest you think me cold and unfeeling, I DID offer to go with him…

So a good hour later, he returned with our lunch and Gatorade, sans knife–did I mention it was over 100 degrees outside? We sat in the café and ate our lunch before beginning the tour of the American History Museum. This amazing museum houses the original “Star Spangled Banner,” which was one of my favorite exhibits. (No photography allowed, alas.) It’s a surreal experience to sit in the same room as an artifact that witnessed such crucial history. Other favorite areas of mine included the areas devoted to the presidents, with special exhibits devoted to those who had been assassinated. I also loved the areas devoted to the wars America has experienced. I know we didn’t see half of what was available just in this one museum, but we decided to move on.

Some of Washington’s supplies

We next went to the National Air and Space Museum. One of my students wants to be a pilot, so this museum is a favorite of his. In addition to a huge collection of planes (as seen in the movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, it also has a flight simulator where you can practice either your flying skills or your bombing skills, depending on which seat you occupy. It is an remarkable experience. I opted not to go this time, since the last time I was there, my co-pilot (student), was quite inexperienced, and I spent most of the time hanging upside down from my seatbelt and laughing, which resulted in bursting a great deal of capillaries in my face….Memorable, but not something I wanted to repeat. Ironically, the student who loves this museum was on that trip as well, but his plane had no such “hang-ups.” Alas…The moral of the story is, if you opt to do the flight simulator, make sure you have a good pilot.

We had planned on going to the Holocaust Museum as well (MY favorite of the museums–not part of the Smithsonian, but nearby), but it was almost 6, and unlike the Smithsonian, which had extended summer hours (to 7:30 instead of 5), the Holocaust Museum still closed at 5. We were coming back Wednesday for our Capitol tour, so we decided to call it a day and begin the longer trek back to the car, since we were now on the farthest side of the Smithsonian instead of the closest. Thankfully, the “Scattered Thunderstorms” held off just long enough for us to get to the car before letting loose. Definitely a memorable day!