Thursday, September 11, 2014

A field of honor forever

On the surface, Shanksville, Pennsylvania seems like most other rural towns.  It has a population of 237.  93% of the population is white.  The town has a general store, a couple churches, a post office, and a volunteer fire station.  A short “drive” on Google Street View shows American flags proudly waving from flagpoles.  But thirteen years ago today, an open field just outside Shanksville became the site of utter tragedy. 

We remember. 

I remember.  On that Tuesday morning, I woke up for school and went to the kitchen. My father was there, staring at the television.  I was eleven years old at that time.  I had felt confusion, fear, and sadness.

United Airlines Flight 93 was one of four civilian airplanes that were hijacked by terrorists that day.  Flight 93 had departed Newark, New Jersey and was supposed to arrive in San Francisco hours later.  Instead, it crashed in a coal strip mine located less than ten miles from Shanksville. 

Some speculate that the hijackers were planning on using Flight 93 by striking the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.  But they failed.   

Their plans failed because of the heroic actions of the passengers who stood up against the terrorists.  Passengers fought back against the hijackers in an effort to regain control of the airplane., or at a minimum, keep the terrorists from crashing into the White House or the Capitol Building.  As a result, Flight 93 crashed right outside Shanksville.

Volunteer firefighters from Shanksville immediately arrived at the scene to aid any survivors.  A retired New York firefighter says,
[Shanksville residents are] Smalltown USA, but they have the biggest hearts.
After the September 11 attacks, people from across the nation arrived in Shanksville to pay their respects to the passengers and crew of Flight 93.  On the day that Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, at least 675 visitors came to the site. 

Early today, people again gathered at the crash site to commemorate the thirteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.  Bells rang forty times in honor of those passengers and crew. Currently, the visitor center is under construction, but a stone wall is already engraved with the names of all the passengers and crew of Flight 93. 

Yesterday, the United States Congress awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to each person who was killed by the terrorist attacks.  For those who died on board Flight 93, there is a distinctive gold medal.  This medal “features an image of the sandstone boulder that marks the area of the impact site, and the hemlock trees at the edge of the field.”  The medal also describes the crash site as, “A common field one day, a field of honor forever.”

On the reverse side, forty stars representing the forty passengers and crew encircle the U.S. Capitol Building, perhaps to symbolize that the passengers and crew protected that structure.  Placed between the stars and the Capitol Building, the following is inscribed:
We honor the passengers and crew of Flight 93 who perished in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001.  Their courageous action will be remembered forever.
As I flipped through the channels on this anniversary, I saw various documentaries that are offered to reflect on this incident.  These television programs primarily focused on the twin towers and the Pentagon, and repeated the devastating images of airplanes crashing into these structures.  For me it was too much to see the graphic images over and over again.  But one thing I noticed was that Shanksville and Flight 93 were rarely mentioned.  The media focused too much on the graphic images, and gave little to no attention to Shanksville and the heroes aboard Flight 93.

Here are my questions to you:  What do you remember from that day?  Do you remember much media coverage over the crash in Shanksville?  Or was most media coverage concerned about the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.? 


Tiffanie said...

What a great post! When 9/11 happened, I was in high school and remember the news covering the twin towers and Pentagon. I personally do not remember any coverage over the crash in Shanksville. Thank you for sharing this very interesting perspective that even 13 years later, I was not fully aware of.

Xiaodan Wang said...

Thank you for sharing this impressive experience. I didn’t know that there was a fourth plane crashed on that day and the brave passengers and fire volunteers before I read your blog. I searched the internet to find more. And here is the front page of global newspapers and magazines on September 12, 2001. The official newspaper of Chinese Government, Renmin Ribao, also reported this tragedy in front page, but compared with the big headlines and photos on other newspapers, it looks a bit weird, cause there was a bigger headline near these two small pieces of news about this tragedy, it was” Ninth National Games Torch Relay launching ceremony” with a picture of the chairman of People Republic of China. I remembered that day, my grandmother, who was only primarily educated, told me that planes were hijacked in America and lots of people died, and she felt so sad. I didn’t hear that anybody around me talking about the Torch Relay launching ceremony. Maybe that is what still happened now in China, official appearance of China sometimes seems cold blood and egoism, but in real life there are millions of people like my grandmother care about what happened on the side of the world, care about life.

Ahva said...

Thank you for this post. Like Tiffanie and Xioadan, and many others I've spoken to, when I think of the 9/11 attacks, I automatically recall the attack on the Twin Towers, followed by the attack on the Pentagon. But I'm ashamed to admit that I tend to remember United 93 only as an after-thought. From what I remember, United 93 did not receive as much coverage as the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, perhaps because these attacks occurred earlier, in big urban areas, on buildings of particular and symbolic significance, and resulted in more casualties. Moreover, there was at least some initial speculation by the media as to whether the United 93's crash was related to the other attacks, or whether it was a mere coincidence. Another explanation as to why United 93 did not receive as much media attention, or is not as immediately memorable as the other attacks, is the fact that the terrorists on that plane did not hit their intended target (due, of course, to the heroism of the passengers). I wonder how much more memorable United 93 would be if it had hit its intended target, which many suspect was the White House or the Capitol Building. But the passengers' heroism and sacrifice should be better remembered. Wikipedia provides a detailed account of the passengers overtaking the plane, including audio recordings of phone calls made by passengers to their loved ones:

Enrique Fernandez said...

Touching post. I remember sitting in the car on my way to school at 6:45am (pst) and listening to the event on the radio; my friend's dad, who was a soldier in the Army, was driving me to school (he would soon be deployed to Afghanistan). I, initially, thought the radio host was reciting something out of a book or movie. We watched the news all morning at school, and there wasn't nearly as much discussion about flight 93 as there was about the trade center towers or pentagon.