Last winter I took a two-hour road
trip from my home in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland to Somerset, Pennsylvania. My purpose was to gather research for a chapter in my book-in-progress.
I took Route 219 north, crossed the
state line into Pennsylvania, and discovered the road had been named “Flight 93
Memorial Highway.” My travel path took me near the exit for Shanksville. On
September 11, 2001, a pastoral field near this small town became the crash site
of a plane hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists. United Flight 93 had departed from Newark, New
Jersey bound for San Francisco, California. It was one of four planes hijacked
on a day so horrific that the wounds to the American psyche have not yet healed.
I promised myself I would return to visit the Flight 93 Memorial.
Time slipped by. The U.S. election
campaign raged for months. I found the rhetoric nearly unbearable. It exposed
an ugly underbelly of America I knew existed, but avoided as best I could: racist,
misogynistic, xenophobic, and intolerant. I shielded myself from the news. Some Facebook friends got hidden. My conversations about the election became circumspect. I naively hoped the hate speech
and resulting violence would end after the election. I was wrong. My spirit was disheartened.
My husband suggested we visit the
Flight 93 Memorial. We hopped in the car. The weather was much the same as it
was on September 11, 2001—azure blue sky, cloudless, and bright. We arrived at
the memorial an hour and a half later.
The Visitor Center is set on a
hillside. We walked along a dark, granite walkway toward an overlook. We later learned
the walkway tracks the fatal flight path of Flight 93. The overlook is bounded
by a glass wall, inscribed with the words,
“A common field one day. A field of honor forever.”
From the overlook, we could see a golden field partially bordered
by hemlock trees. Its beauty tempers the horror of viewing the debris field.
We entered the Visitor Center building
and found a series of four walls, each double-sided. The panels displayed the
chronology of the terrorists’ attacks and the fatal struggle that took place
inside Flight 93.
The passengers and crew learned
through telephone calls that three other planes had been hijacked and used as bombs.
After a vote, the forty brave souls banded together to resist the
terrorists. They fought to save themselves, each other, and the U.S.
Capitol—the probable target of Flight 93 and the symbol of Democracy.
From the Visitor’s Center, there is
a walking path (and a narrow road for cars) down the hill to the Memorial Plaza.
A walkway separates the plaza from the debris field. At the end of the walkway is the Wall of Names.
Each panel of the marble wall is engraved with a name of a passenger or crew
member. There are forty panels. The wall aligns with the flight path. There is a clear view of the large boulder marking the site of impact.
The crew and passengers of Flight
93 were ordinary people with extraordinary courage. Men and women, black and
white, old and young, straight and gay, Americans and international visitors, white
and blue collar workers, and retirees. Do you think these differences provoked an invective word between them? Of course not. They worked together, lost their lives,
and saved countless others. Their courage is historic.
Right now, we Americans must
exercise the courage to resist hatred and fear in all of its forms. We can look to the heroic souls of Flight 93