September 11, 2001 was one of those days that everyone old enough to recall will remember. America was attacked. I have read a lot of accounts of that day. I have my own memories. They say in Israel you are always two steps from any terrorist attack and this truism was proven to me five times over on Sept 11th. One of the victims, Christine Egan was a professor in the same Faculty I was a PhD student in. One of the young men who just missed being killed was son of one of my friends. He worked in the tower and was late arriving because he decided to get a cup of coffee. His mother didn’t know he was safe until late that night. The father of one of my husband’s students was the only person in his company located in the North tower who didn’t die that day because he was out of town. The son of one my other friends was driving towards the tower when the planes hit. He was late because he was a religious Jew and it was the month of Elul, a time for prayers and reflection and repentance, and he had extra prayers to finish before leaving. And so he was able to turn his car around and avoid dying. My husband’s cousin, a New York lawyer, had his daughter in a daycare where a lot of parents didn’t make it home that day and some never did come home and their children never saw them again. And of course, closest of all, my step son, who has become very precious to me, was a pilot at that time. It could have been him.
During September 11, 2001 I was in Canada. I watched American planes diverted from US airspace into our nation. They had to go fly over my location on the way to safety in my country. I am proud of the small role we played that day. Still, I have never cried about 911. I felt I had no right to given how peripheral my role was compared to the grief of so many who died and who lost a husband or wife or child.
I have always wanted to go to one of the memorials and pay my respect to dead. I can’t see myself going to down town New York. I really do hate cities. I felt the same way about getting to the Pentagon in Washington DC. And so, since it was near our travels, we made our way to the memorial in Pennsylvania. I know there was a huge controversy when the first designs were released. I think the current design does a fine job. The flight path is highlighted. The site were the plane went down is marked by a simple boulder. There is a walkway where we are kept a respectful distance back. There are places to put tributes if you wish. There is an information centre as you arrive with images of that day, stories of the victims, a chance to see mementos and personal things from the aircraft. The humanity of the victims, and how they died fighting, is the centre point of the display. Fittingly, the subhuman monsters who perpetrated this horrific crime are not named, memorialized and there are no pictures. They are just “the terrorists”.
I felt no ghostly presence there. The dead have moved on to wherever they go. I only felt one “brush” emotionally. I ran my fingers over the name of Todd Beamer and I recalled he was a devote Christian. “I am not here, scattered here dead in the earth. I am with our Father”. It was a very comforting thought. He would say such a thing and it would be true of him.
You start at the centre and then walk a half a mile to the open area where the names of the victims are etched in black on white marble. One of them has the tiny words etched but not blackened, beside the blackened words naming a woman “and unborn child”. And I finally cried. The horror of that day came back in full measure and I walked around with the tissue wiping my eyes and crying. It’s been 14 years but it took 14 years and such a place for me to finally be able to cry.
On the walk back to our trailer I still felt great sorrow but also I felt very much at peace. This hill top in Pennsylvania has a wonderful view. The memorial is supposed to be a place of reflection and healing and for me it was.
A fossil found at the site during excavation and in one of the display cases.
The flight path from the information centre.
The rows of display cases of mementoes.
A grove of trees was set on fire by the crash. The artist who designed the memorial took the burned trees and pressed them into the cement walls. One gate is made from timbers from the grove.
The memorial, while open to the public, is not finished and some places still have construction. Here, they are reinforcing the cement walls because the winter winds have threatened to bring the wall down.
The curve of the walls follows the flight path seconds before they hit the ground.
Groves of red amour maples are planted all over. There are a total of 40 groves each with 40 trees in memory of the 40 passengers and crew who died that day.
A large boulder sits on the place where the plane hit the ground and left a huge burning crater and fire. Not one part of the plane survived that was bigger than six feet. Most pieces were much smaller. The tail and rear fuselage left an imprint in the ground but was itself disintegrated on impact. Someone had left fresh flowers at the wall by the names of several of the women.
Plane wreckage and body parts were scattered over the entire area and it was simply impossible to gather all the fragments and so the entire area is left as a grave behind the wall. The wall contains slots for memorial items people might wish to leave.
The farmhouse in the picture is still there.
We had a short drive to the nearby Shawnee State Park. The park is entirely reservation and in summer very busy. Make a reservation. At this time of year, we were one of only five campers. It is a lovely, typical, state park. If you go to the memorial, the trip is harrowing, up and down steep hills with sharp turns and steep grades. The worst is the section of #30 west of the memorial. We made the trip with the trailer but it was hard. The grades up and down were 10% but they were short and had many stretches with level driving to break them up. The stretch from #30 to the east is easier but there is one five mile section where the hill has an 8% grade and a switchback. There are two places to pull over and stop and cool the breaks and transmission on the way down but no stopping places on the way up. Highway 30 is a hellish, awful drive with a trailer. I suggest you park your trailer at the Shawnee State Park or in Somerset and then unhitch and drive without a towed vehicle to the memorial. You will need about two hours to do the memorial justice, longer if you want to hike the three miles the long way through the memorial groves. You can also drive the memorial drive. Since that was not trailer friendly we skipped that.