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!