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A place forgotten

"A place forgotten" Continued...

Issue: "Remembering 9/11," Sept. 10, 2011

Fred Koch, 52, of Morgantown, W.Va., took his teenage son, Ross, to the site in August: "It makes me ask the question, would I have done the same thing?"

What they did is well-documented. The terrorists had selected flights that were normally under-booked so they would face less resistance, headed west so they would have an abundance of fuel, and scheduled to take off at the same time.

But heavy air traffic delayed Flight 93 for 25 minutes. Four minutes after takeoff, the first hijacked plane struck the World Trade Center's North Tower. The second plane hit the South Tower 25 minutes before the Flight 93 terrorists seized the cockpit.

Flight 93's delay enabled the passengers, forced into the back of the plane, to learn what already had happened in New York-thanks to 37 cell-phone calls they placed to those on the ground. The horrifying news of their likely fate forced them to make a decision.

"Here are 40 people who have nothing in common, but they quickly decide that they are not going to be responsible for another attack," said Jeff Reinbold, site manager with the NPS. "So they do a very American thing, they took a vote about how to act. It is very much a 'We The People' story."

The group voted to revolt. But they decided to wait until the plane was above a sparsely populated rural area before launching their counterattack on the cockpit. The recovered cockpit voice recorder captured shouts and sounds of breaking glass in the plane's final minutes. The hijacker piloting the aircraft tried to thwart the attack by rolling the plane up and down and side to side before eventually bringing the plane into the Pennsylvania ground.

The plane was just 20 minutes' flight time from its intended destination: Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Capitol, where Congress was in session. Flight 93 was also on a direct flight path and mere seconds away from hitting a school with 500 students just a mile and a half away. Students there felt the concussion blast and ceiling tiles popped out of classrooms.

But the passengers of Flight 93 accomplished their mission: No one on the ground was hurt. And the terrorists failed in theirs: It was the only hijacked plane not to reach its target.

"It is not just another meadow now," says recent visitor Catherine Sheehan, 55, of Lake Forest, Ill.

Her travel companion, Juergen Saminy, 63, added that this site reminds him of another hallowed ground in Pennsylvania: Gettysburg. Both battlefields, as he called them, are places of carnage that have been turned into sanctuaries of peace. "You can connect these patriots to patriots of the past," he said.

The memorial will cost $62 million. Congress so far has provided more than $10 million while the state of Pennsylvania has allocated over $18 million. More than 72,000 donors, representing all 50 states and 24 countries, have given a total of about $20 million. The National Park Foundation, the park service's fundraiser, wants to raise an additional $10 million through private donations by the end of 2011.

This would fund later construction phases in the park, including a new visitor's center that will fully tell Flight 93's story. The culmination includes a 93-foot tower with 40 chimes that will stand at the site's entrance. But fundraisers here face unique challenges: The county, which has a population of less than 78,000, lacks the deep pockets of New York's financial district or the Pentagon's defense contractors.

But that is why this site strongly appeals to middle America. Flight 93's tragic journey has become a strong draw to Americans who feel little connection to Wall Street or the military-industrial complex. "I can identify with this place because I lived in a town like this," is a comment the memorial volunteers say they commonly hear.

White, who named his 2-year-old son after his cousin, still battles feelings of indignation and resentment about what happened. He said he wouldn't begin to heal fully until all phases of the project are complete.

He has donated his time and experience as a Florida-based land-use attorney to help acquire the property around the crash site. Many relatives and friends of Flight 93's passengers and crew have lent their talents to make sure the shrine is completed. Over the past decade of working together they've adopted one another, White said, into a much larger extended family. "We care for each other the same way the people on that plane did in the very brief time that they were together. In a way they understood they were going to spend eternity together. But this isn't so much a memorial for us, the families, as it is for all the people who come and try to make sense of the things that happened that day."

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