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A look back to the future: The Flight 93 Memorial

Shanksville, PA — For the past 20 years, 400,000 people have come to what was once just a strip mine, but is important now an part of our American history: the Flight 93 memorial.

With its beautiful wall of names, it’s joined the ranks of some of our nation’s most significant historical sites; as gripping and emotional as Peral Harbor, the Trail of Tears and Martin Luther King Jr. memorials.

“I do feel the sacredness of it,” said Gene Yockey of Alaska.

Built to pay respect to the 40 men and women, mostly strangers, who stood together fighting the terrorists. It’s a place that evokes emotions from everyone who visits, and even more from those who remember that day. This 2,200-acre site built in three phases was made into a national memorial in 2002. It was created from a national design competition.

“For this place to become part of the National Park Service, or the national park system, in a little over a year is unheard of,” said Stephen Clark, who is a Superintendent for the National Parks of Western Pennsylvania.

From the wall of names to the visitor center, to the newest addition, the Tower of Voices; Clark says many people even in the Pittsburgh area are unaware of all its unique aspects.

“They knew they were going to try to do something to get that airplane back up through that center aisle,” explained Clark. “That’s precisely what occurred at 9:57 (a.m.) — really, the first counterattack on terrorism by civilians.”

The visitor center tells the story of that September day, and the heroic acts of the passengers on board, even giving you the opportunity to hear their voices as they made calls from the doomed plane.

“They’re very, very powerful, very, very special. And you can hear it in their voices, the unbelievable calmness, but at the same time, the courage.”

After spending time there, you walk the flight path overlooking the crash site, where a 17-ton boulder sits. It’s a special site to Clark and family members like Gordie Felt, whose brother died.

“The sacred ground, there’s no question that just that is the unique, most powerful place because in essence, that’s where the 40 (were) and when that plane impacted, and ultimately all were killed instantly,” said Clark.

It’s an emotional thought that leaves many people in awe that 40 people all from different walks of life would unite their voices. Those voices which are now represented with 40 chimes from this 93-foot concrete structure: the Tower of Voices. Added in 2018 but finally finished in 2020, the unique musical instrument greets visitors as they enter the site.

“It represents, and the fact that it’s so raw, we’re still living it,” said Clark. “We just want to be a part of keeping their memory, and the memory and the pride and the patriotism of this great nation in people’s memories. So they don’t forget.”

The Flight 93 Memorial not only honors the passengers, but also has the goal to educate the next generation about that attack on America just two decades ago.

Every passenger we spoke with say they feel some emotion visiting the wall of names: “Seeing all their names lined up is very powerful.”

Clark says you won’t see any new structures built at the memorial, but they will continue to work toward the goal to plant 150,000 new trees and make repairs to things that nature deteriorates.

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