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!

 

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Winter Quarters at Valley Forge

I started out my morning (7/15/17) with a quick trip through Valley Forge.  I have wanted to visit here for a while, and I intentionally chose a hotel in the vicinity so I could visit.  Because of the rain the past two days, I waited til this morning so I could get good pictures for use in class power points.

One of the things I was immediately struck with is how great a role Washington played in his men’s morale.  Trying to understand him for writing a book makes me focus more on his personal character than just the events.  We all have learned in school about the conditions at Valley Forge–freezing, disease, lack of clothing and supplies–but think about who had to keep those men willing to endure those things.  George Washington.  Additionally, I’d never looked at the fact that he brought Baron von Steuben in as a morale booster.  But, when you read von Steuben’s military experience, that had to give the men some hope and a reason to continue to press on.  Private Joseph Plumb Martin may had summed it up best when he stated, “We had engaged in the defense of our injured country and were willing, nay we were determined to persevere.”

The lay of the land

Another side of the war we don’t normally consider is its affect on the townspeople living there.  A picture display in one of the cabins explains that soldiers took down farmer’s fences to use the wood for construction.  They also demanded livestock of the people for food, and the encampment made such a mess of things, the townspeople couldn’t even plant crops after the army had left, the fields were so deep in mud and trampled from drilling.  I’m sure that made for two hard winters for the people who lived here–both while the army was here and after they’d left.  Apparently, George Washington visited later after fields were able to be plowed and planted, and–a farmer at heart–was pleased to see the agriculture up and running again.

While I’m sure there was much more I didn’t have a chance to explore–especially the reenactment areas–I needed to head to the Old Barracks.

The Old Barracks Museum

The Old Barracks is a fascinating Museum and the only remaining one of its kind.  It contains both original and reconstructed portions.  They do tours every hour, and it is well worth the price of admission!

Our tour guide, David, gave an amazing tour lasting over an hour (I had to leave to get to Gettysburg).  He started by explaining the reasons behind the creation of the barracks.  There had been a movement in parliament to expand the British empire. As a result, England sent 20,000 soldiers–the single largest investment of soldiers–to the colonies to help secure the lands to the west.  Problems arose because the British army had to be treated differently than the colonial militia.  Usually militias served 9-12 months as needed in a crisis (often going home for the winter when they disbanded to be formed again as needed.) But, British soldiers needed to be housed, as they obviously weren’t going home for the winter. Later, in order to handle this situation, Britain passed the first quartering act:  The Mutiny Act of 1765.  Under this law, British soldiers had to occupy barracks, then public houses (taverns). If none of those were available, then they moved to private homes or rented warehouses.

The Tour begins

During the French Indian War, New Jersey didn’t have anything to accommodate troops. The Population was only 1,000, and 250 British soldiers were sent. With no places to put them, they had to be quartered in homes.  Contrary to popular belief, you did have right to refuse to house soldiers, but you got paid for quartering troops, so many people accepted the offer.  However, the citizens of New Jersey began to complain that they were not paid as much as they were owed.

Additionally, though the British sent the largest number of troops they ever had, they were not winning the French Indian War. One by one, states stop raising armies to support the cause.  Then, in 1758, William Pitt became Prime Minister in Britain, instituting many new policies. First, he fired the old commander and instead of demanding things from the colonies, he started formally requesting what he desired.  He also made the colonists a deal:  He offered $100,000 lbs in gold specie–as much as you spend for the crown, you’ll get a portion of that back in specie. Since specie was hard to get in the colonies, this spurred many colonies to help out the crown.  New Jersey voted to erect 5 barracks to house soldiers. This is the only one still standing. Within two years of William Pitt’s leadership, France surrendered.

Soldiers’ quarters

The rooms in the barracks are 15 feet square, designed to house 12 men.  Men were divided in 6 man mess groups which shared camp (mess) equipment. The barracks was designed to house 300 soldiers. When a tent is 7 feet square at base, this is a real improvement–especially when the building usually only occupied 200-250 men.

The winter quarters were designed to conserve the soldiers’ health. Drilling usually started back up again in March. So, in the winter months, soldiers really didn’t have much responsibility  other than once a month guard duty.

External of officers’ quarters

David also gave insight into the lives of officers.  He reminded us that Officers had to be gentlemen. Because of that, most soldiers never aspired to leadership. Basically, commissions recognized individuals already in place in society. Otherwise, you had to purchase commissions (which cost about 4 years’ salary). Additionally, because officers were gentlemen, they were expected to pay for themselves–uniforms, the trip over, etc.
Initially, Benjamin Franklin turned down a commission because he was still a printer (gentleman didn’t work with hands). Later when he sold his business, he accepted the title of Colonel. While attached to the barracks, the Officers’ house was tacked onto end of building (no doubt the idea of 300 leaderless men left to their own devices was the motivation for this.)  While guests were illegal for enlisted men, the officers’ quarters were designed to bring visitors in. The Officers’ house was designed for 12 officers, though there likely was only 8-10.

Prussian Blue

Inside the quarters also gives insight.  The Spanish Brown paint used in the office area is the cheapest paint available, and corner fireplaces were more practical but less elegant.  On the opposite side of the house, the long room is painted in Prussian Blue–the most expensive paint. This room was used for entertaining. When you understand that a Captain could draw 7 times what a soldier’s ration was–and they had the option to get the equivalent cash price, most took the cash, then bought their own food.  Understanding this context of both officers and soldiers helped me understand Washington’s role, and the fact that he had no possibility of becoming an officer under the British standards.  In fact, he even resigned his commission in the French-Indian War and served as an aid because a non-ranking officer (Washington) could not hold leadership over a commissioned officer.

David concluded the tour with information on George Washington’s role in the American Revolution and the uses of the barracks after the war.  But, I needed to head to Gettysburg and towards home.  This concludes leg one of the Washington grant studies.  Stay tuned for the Western Pennsylvania installments!