State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

At Flight 93 memorial, remembrance and healing 15 years later

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 12, 2016 2:39 AM

Family members and many others stopped by the Wall of Names to pay tribute. (Photo by Tim Lambert/WITF)



(Somerset County) -- The story is well known by now: on September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four planes. Two crashed into the twin towers, one into the Pentagon, and one into a remote field in Stonycreek Township.

The hijackers on board that last plane weren't aiming for rural Somerset County--most likely, they planned to hit the US Capitol. But the passengers and crew on US Airlines Flight 93 were able to fight back and stop the terrorists.

All 40 of them were killed, but they are believed to have saved countless others.

Today, the place where the plane went down is a national memorial honoring their story. Every year, its 9/11 memorial service compels thousands of people to make the pilgrimage to the site.

"This is hallowed ground. Truly, hallowed ground," Bill Cleveland, a retired US Capitol police officer said. He was at work on September 11th, 2001, and may well owe his life to the passengers.

"That was a day when it was a full House, Senate, everyone was there," he said. "There were more than five or six thousand people there. So those people gave their lives for so many other people. And I'm one of them."

Pennsylvania Republican U-S Senator Pat Toomey said he was another one of them.

He was in DC that day too, and said there's a good chance the passengers and crew on Flight 93 are the reason he could go home to his family.

"So we will never be able to find the words to adequately express the appreciation that we have for the 40 heroes of Flight 93," he said. "But what we can do is we can do our part to keep the memory alive."

Toomey spoke at the memorial service along with several other officials, like Pennsylvania's other Senator, Democrat Bob Casey, and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The services also included a candle-lighting ceremony the night before the anniversary, a wreath-laying, and reflective speeches from those who have been involved in the memorial process over the years.

For most people, attending the ceremony is a way to show their gratitude. But for the families of those who were lost that day, it's even more than that: for many, the memorial has become a sanctuary.


For many people close to the tragedy, visiting the memorial offers an opportunity to reflect. (Photo by Tim Lambert/WITF)

"When we first came out here we were strangers in a strange land--we knew no one," said Ed Root. "And now...we are family in more than name only."

Root's cousin Lorraine Bay was a flight attendant on the jetliner. Since her death he's been heavily involved with the memorial, and helped plan the visitor center and Wall of Names that now mark the area around the crash site.

"I've literally watched it develop from the paper planning to where we stand now, and sometimes I look around and I can't believe that this is--you see it on paper, you listen, you discuss it, but to see it in reality is just very humbling," he said. 

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When the plane first crashed fifteen years ago, the park was just a barren field. (Photo by Tim Lambert/WITF)

The memorial is spread amid open fields in rolling hills.

In late summer, when the crowds die down, the loudest sounds come from crickets and cicadas.

Lloyd Glick lost his son Jeremy on board Flight 93. He said it's wracking and emotional to be there, but it's also helpful.

"This is a place that--between the families, the friends, and the national park service--have made a remarkable place for reflection and contemplation," he said. "It gives a reasonable feeling of peace."

Even this year--which has been marked by political unrest and division across the country--a sense of calm seemed to permeate the services.

That tranquility made an impression on Betty Fundalewicz, who visits the site every five years. And she said, it made her hopeful.

"You come here and you see the respect that people have--not only for what these 40 people did, but people seem to respect each other," she said. "And it just reminds you of what potential that this country is supposed to have."

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