9/11 memorial to be dedicated for Flight 93

September 7, 2011 3:34:35 PM PDT
The hills outside the hamlet of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, will be filled with thousands of people this weekend to dedicate a new 9/11 memorial to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93.

The piece of Pennsylvania countryside was once a common field, but is now meant to be a field of honor forever. The memorial is one that has been years in the making.

The first phase is done and will be dedicated this weekend in ceremonies that will be attended by President Barack Obama, former presidents Bush and Clinton, the families of the passengers and crew aboard flight 93, and many of the people who had the very difficult job of working the crash site after Flight 93 went down.

From the western overlook, you gaze to the field below where there was once a strip mine sitting adjacent to a grove of hemlocks. This is where United 93 hit the earth. Thousands of people have gone there over the past decade to see, to feel, to think.

"You hear these stories of the great lengths that people go to to come here - driving across the country to come to this lone place. People who have only a couple of days in the states and this is where they go to," Jeff Reinbold, Flight 93 Memorial site manager, said.

The old mining office on the hill above has served as home base for the National Park Service Flight 93 Memorial. Inside, there are pictures of the 40 passengers and crew, and the story of their heroics that day. It is where people write and leave tributes and thanks.

This weekend, the first phase of the new, permanent memorial will be dedicated. It includes a long walkway that rims the spot where 93 hit and disintegrated.

"And it spread debris all the way behind us and into the hemlock grove. So in a sense, the plane is off to our left," Keith Newlin, Flight 93 National Memorial supt., said.

The force created a crater - 40 feet deep - on impact. Whatever grew from the topsoil then was burned away in the fireball.

Now, - wildflowers grow in the field where remains and belongings were recovered. A 17-ton sandstone boulder marks the point of impact.

There will ultimately be 40 groves of trees, and a flowering meadow called the Field of Honor. The memorial's architect Paul Murdoch wrote of his intent, "We want to restore life here to heal the land and nourish our souls."

The memorial's focal point is a marble wall. ABC7 was asked to photograph it from a distance since the victims' families have not yet been there as a group to experience it. It's actually 40 separate panels of marble standing together.

"And each panel has the name of a passenger and crew, but it has different veining, so each one has a different character to it," Reinbold said.

The panels are constructed in a line that marks Flight 93's direction of travel in its final seconds.

"It's very touching. Moving," Andrea Dammann said.

FBI Special Agent Dammann was there ten years ago, the day after 9/11. As head of the FBI Pittsburgh Bureau's evidence response team, it was her job to coordinate the massive and horrific job of recovering remains, belongings and evidence. She and the other agents carry different images in their heads, so the memorial helps them heal as well.

"It's nice to see something nice, physical come out of this as opposed to the dirt that we pretty much left," Dammann said.

"You look over here and see where we were hustling and bustling for two weeks and now it's very quiet," FBI Special Agent Doug Seccombe said. Agent Seccombe is from the Chicago bureau. He ran the temporary morgue ten years ago. The memorial gives him a chance to reflect and not be overwhelmed. And he remembers a pocket bible found amidst the crash debris - undamaged.

"Everybody just kind of stood in awe and looked at it because in all this tragedy and death, and terrorist act, you know here was a bible sitting here open, you could read it, so it became a source of inspiration for everybody," Seccombe said.

He, Dammann, and many of their colleagues who responded to the scene will attend the dedication.

There are longer range plans for the Flight 93 memorial that depend on significant private financing. What they most notably call for is the construction of a tower - 93 feet tall -- that will contain 40 wind chimes that will be softly heard when the wind moves them. It would be called the Tower of Voices, one for each of the passengers and crew aboard Flight 93.

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