The Forgotten Memorial of United Flight 93

A live webcam shot of the Flight 93 Memorial site, taken from http://www.honorflight93.org/memorial/construction/?fa=live-webcam

With so much recent talk about the Ground Zero mosque, the national 9/11 memorial being erected in Lower Manhattan has received significant attention. Rightly so — the museum as well as the actual memorials (there are technically two) are slated to be beautiful tributes to the victims and heroes of September 11, 2001.

But three hundred miles west, and about a five hour car ride down I-78, there’s another 9/11 memorial that’s been largely ignored. Not just by the media, but seemingly by everyone.

Recently, Bob Sullivan took a trip to Shanksville, PA and the field where United flight 93 crashed after a group of passengers struggled for control of their hijacked plane. There, the juxtaposition between the New York site and what should have been by now the Pennsylvania site couldn’t have been more obvious: “Today, the spot in Shanksville, Pa., where the plane slammed into the earth remains a largely unrecognizable patch of dirt.” And while it will be dressed up for this weekend’s memorial service, Sullivan recognizes that the mask will still have to come off and expose what the memorial really is, “a barely active construction site.”

Sullivan’s initial reaction says it all: “This is our tribute to these heroes?” And he explains how it got to be this way:

The rest of the story will probably sound familiar to you, even if the details are not.  While Congress passed a law authorizing creation of a memorial a year after 9/11, the National Park Service and the Families of Flight 93 spent the better part of the next nine years working to acquire the the crash site for the memorial. The process did not go smoothly. At one point, the park service had to move the temporary memorial when a mining company that owned the land where it had been erected tried to solicit donations from visitors.  After years of bickering, the federal government threatened to use eminent domain to take the land in 2008, which finally persuaded several local coal companies to sell. In the meantime, the park service and the coal companies argued over who would clean up the manganese left over from prior mining activities.  After the design for the memorial was chosen in 2005, protestors — led by a family member of a Flight 93 victim — complained that the plans include hidden pro-Islamic messages. Work on the memorial finally began in 2009, but stopped almost immediately when a New Jersey construction company challenged the bidding process.

Read the entire story, including Sullivan’s profile of a victim’s family member who continues to be optimistic about the memorial.

According to Sullivan, the Flight 93 Memorial, estimated to cost $58 million, is being built through a combination of private and government funds. While funding for phase one is complete, another $15 million is needed to begin work on phase two. Donations are accepted at HonorFlight93.org.

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