Day 38, Wednesday, August 22, 2018
I was in graduate school when the planes hit the Twin Towers. I was still asleep, as I didn’t have class until afternoon, and got a phone call letting me know I should turn on the TV. Seeing that second plane crash on live TV was something I’m sure none of us who saw it will ever forget. Then seeing that another plane hit the Pentagon, and finally a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
Seeing the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania was a powerful and emotional experience. The Visitor’s Center is perched on top of a hill overlooking the crash site; a new, modern building with exhibits that really hit home. You know it is going to be emotional when you see that they have boxes of Kleenex parked all over the place – take some; you will need them.
You see, the thing about Flight 93 is that it was the last plane to crash that morning. By then, the passengers and crew knew what had happened to those three other planes. They knew they were going to die, so they made the heroic decision to fight against their hijackers. By fighting back, they could at least prevent them from crashing that plane into another occupied building – it wasn’t until later that authorities learned that the likely target was the U.S. Capitol.
The Visitor’s Center has news footage playing of that morning. You learn that the flights weren’t chosen at random. The hijackers chose long haul flights (more jet fuel to explode) with few passengers (fewer people to interfere with their plans). The exhibits also include recordings of some of the last phone calls that the passengers made to their loved ones. You can hear the fear, and the emotion of those goodbyes. If you are anything like me, you will bawl your eyes out…
One of the exhibits is a note on Best Western Hotel stationary. It reads, “I was in DC, across from the White House, on the top floor of the tallest building nearby. The way I figure it, you all gave your life for me. I won’t waste it. I promise. -CH”
You can drive or walk down to the site – I chose to drive since it was getting to be late in the afternoon, and there were only a couple other people there. I walked out along the path, watching a large, sandstone boulder that has been placed at the impact site and the final resting place of the passengers and crew. Rays of sun shone down on that stone that afternoon like a message from God.
There were 40 passengers and crew on board that day, along with the 4 hijackers. The names of those 40 people who lost their lives that day are engraved on a white marble wall; the wall lines up with the final flight path of the plane. It is a somber tribute to these souls; simple and beautiful.
It may be easier to not confront the pain that this place represents for so many people. However, it is important to experience, and to never forget.