|A field in Pennsylvania|
David Whitley takes a detour to the forgotten 9/11 Memorial
Looking out, it’s just a field. A field with tufty grass and a grove of trees towards the back, surrounded by other fields in bucolic, agricultural Pennsylvania.
But the phrase “a field in Pennsylvania” will always be charged. No longer does it bring images of honest farmers toiling away or the Amish in their buggies. It brings images of United Flight 93.
No-one knows for sure where the terrorist hijackers planned to take the delayed flight from Newark to San Francisco on September 11th, 2001. Two planes had already crashed into New York’s World Trade Center by the time they took charge. The course was diverted over Ohio, with air traffic control in Cleveland hearing the distress calls from the incapacitated pilot and co-pilot. Flight 93 was heading for Washington DC – probably towards either the White House or the US Capitol building. And when it crashed at over 500 miles an hour, it was just twenty minutes away from whatever that target was.
The 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon is already up, and there is regular coverage about the progress of the new developments on what was once Ground Zero in New York. The memorial for the fourth plane gets somewhat forgotten about.
The field, technically in Shanksville but accessed via Stoystown on the Lincoln Highway, is off-limits. A wall seals off what is effectively the graveyard of the 44 people – seven crew, 33 passengers and four terrorists – who died in the inferno. The debris has been cleared, but a gap in the grove indicates where the trees were burned away. A boulder, just to the back of the impact site, serves as a marker. Three small US flags fly next to it.
It’s a difficult site to build a suitable memorial on. The crew and passengers were heroes that day – their actions in rushing the cockpit undoubtedly prevented a higher death toll – but the sort of grand horseback memorial usually given to army generals would be thoroughly inappropriate here. It’s not a place for glory or celebration – it’s a place for remembrance and reflection.
Fittingly for the location, the memorial is being allowed to grow in stages; almost organically. There will be 40 small groves planted, and allowed to grow. There will be a tower that plays 40 wind chimes. But for now, a black wall divides the path from the field that is regarded as sacred ground. At the end are 40 marble walls that interlock as one for greater effect. And a small black pathway represents part of the flight path.
It’s restrained, sombre and almost tranquil, almost creating a peace for the 40 impromptu heroes to rest in. And it feels better for that. Not everything needs to be spectacular to be powerful.