PHOTO ALBUM: September 11, 2004, Shanksville, PennsylvaniaOne Year Ago Today, Part I
A few years back, some friends and I went on a ROAD TRIP! WOOO! up the East Coast. My sole purpose for even going on this trip was to see Ground Zero. I felt I needed to make a pilgrimmage to see for myself instead of merely on TV the effects of the most important event in my lifetime. Unfortunately, it was not to be; car trouble caused us to scrap completely the New York leg of the trip.
So last year, almost completely impulsively and spontaneously, I decided I was going to go myself. I discovered that stopping at the Flight 93 Memorial would make an excellent pause point in the trip, as it was only a slight detour. So I told my boss I was taking Saturday off and drove straight through Friday night.
I arrived at the Flight 93 Memorial just as they were concluding the official service. Late, yes, but not alone:
(click any for full-size)
Hundreds of people were still arriving, overflowing the tent set up for the service. News crews were there from all over the country, and most of them, at some point during the morning, interviewed these two:
They were NYPD officers who felt they needed to pay their respects to the ad hoc citizens' brigade who performed as bravely as any police officer ever could.
As I worked my way closer to the memorial, I met a pastor and some congregants from Maryland who were also on a pilgrimmage . . . on bicycles. One of the many spontaneous outpourings of support was the signing of a metal guardrail that separated the grassy area underneath the tent from the gravel outside it. The pastor produced a Sharpie marker and, not surprisingly, prefaced his signature with John 15:13. I could never say something quite so succinctly appropriate, so I went with my default slogan for 9/11:
You can see the shadow of his bike tire in the bottom right.
Former Pennsylvania Governor and then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge spoke at the ceremony. That's not me with him; although I did get my picture taken with Secretary Ridge, I had not slept all night and had just spent the last 8 hours in a car. So I looked even more hideous than usual.
After the public ceremony, friends and family of Flight 93 victims boarded chartered buses and drove several hundred yards away for a private service. No press allowed, so certainly I wasn't getting on.
I wouldn't have wanted to.
Finally I turned my attention to the makeshift memorial, which was really nothing more than a simple chain-link fence where people attached trinkets and tributes. The permanent memorial planned for Flight 93 upsets me, and not just because of its shape and directional orientation.
One of the more comforting things that stayed with me after 9/11 was the immediate outpouring of support from all over the nation. It was a spontaneous, unorganized group hug for those involved. The new permanent memorial will spend millions of taxpayer dollars and have professionally designed symbolic elements, but it will lose all the charisma of the heartfelt but amateur wiki-memorial.
You wanna make this memorial permanent? Take this fence, and everything attached to it, and dip it in bronze.
Along with personal messages, the most popular items attached seemed to be hats. I walked all the way back to my car and retrieved my well-worn ND Class of 2001 hat. (I didn't notice this until just now, but in the above picture, there's another ND hat: a gray one, a little to the right of the center frame.) I braided the loop through the fence and added a small American flag:
A wider view:
Other contributions to the memorial:
The final component of the Flight 93 Memorial is the actual crash site, and thank God the permanent memorial commission isn't dumb enough to build anything on it. They call it "Sacred Ground," which is a little overdramatic, but appropriately reverent.
From the makeshift chain-link memorial, the crash site was so far away that it was barely a speck; the only way you could ever be able to see it was because an American flag was planted there, in the distance:
It's very tough to see, from my store-bought disposable camera, so here's the pic again with the flag magnified by a factor of 4.
It was a very sunny and hot morning September 11, 2004. Not at all unlike the day three years before, before everything became dark and cold.