Shortly after our arrival at our campground near Rockwood, our plans changed. Tomorrow we're hitting the road for Kansas City. So, we spent most of today preparing to travel. While doing our laundry in nearby Somerset, we struck up a conversation with a friendly local. She asked how long we planned to be in the area. We explained that our visit was being cut short and we have to leave tomorrow.
"You have to visit Flight 93," she said with a soulful look in her eyes that instantly set our agenda for the rest of the afternoon.
On the list of sites we had planned to see during our stay, the Flight 93 National Memorial was definitely on the list. Our local friend assured us it was a short drive away and definitely worth the trip. We decided to make the time. We're glad we did.
The rolling hills of western Pennsylvania are scenic, in a peaceful way. Somerset County is quiet, rural and lovely. On September 11, 2001, ordinary Americans took extraordinary measures in the skies above this idyllic landscape and gave the ultimate sacrifice protecting others. Since that horrific day, the people of Somerset County have worked together with the Federal government to protect the final resting place of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 and honor their memory. What began as a makeshift organic memorial is now taking shape as a national memorial and one of the nation's newest national parks. Late last year, ground was broken for the permanent memorial. Its first phase is scheduled for completion for the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack.
Today, an old mining company shack that served as a command post for weeks after the crash now stands as a temporary memorial that tells the story of that day and honors the memory of the 40 heroes. A short path leads to a viewing area, which is separated by a chain link fence. More than one million visitors have come to this site to date, and many of them leave makeshift memorials on this fence. From the viewing area you can see construction of the permanent memorial, and to the right of that activity sits a green field with a single American flag in its center.
"That is the sacred ground," explained the Ambassador standing near us at the viewing area. "No one but family members will ever stand on that spot."
The Ambassadors are a network of local residents who have volunteered their time to be here to offer assistance to visitors at the site. They are here every day of the year to help people understand what happened and what is happening at the memorial. They experienced this tragedy personally and deeply. The account our Ambassador shared made the plight of Flight 93 even more real. What had been something we'd only read about or seen pictures of is now something that happened right here in this sacred place that we have seen, touched and smelled.
We humbly paid our respects to the brave souls of Flight 93. We will never forget.