10 years later

Where was I that day? In newspaper class, fittingly, my senior year of high school. We watched as the first tower smoldered and then, live, as the second tower was hit.

We watched them fall in the next class period, as I sat next to a friend who was worried for the safety of a family member working in the area that had been attacked.

For the rest of the classes throughout the day, we sat transfixed, watching as replays of those moments early that Tuesday morning became etched in our brains, became what people call “Our generation’s Pearl Harbor.”

I listened to people speculate as to which other cities weren’t safe – wondering where the terrorists would strike next. Los Angeles? Chicago?

I went to Dairy Queen with my sister and some friends (something she reminded me of today, I’d forgotten) after school because we really didn’t know what else to do.

I wanted to write something today, acknowledging the 10th anniversary of that day. But I’m kind of at a loss. What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said? I am grateful for our freedom and those who serve and defend our country. My heart breaks for the families of victims of 9/11, who actually are just as much victims themselves.

Seven years ago – in 2004 – I was a college student. I was in a feature-writing class and we had an assignment on columns. I chose to write mine on United 93, the flight that crashed in Shanksville, Penn. the day the towers fell. My family had just come back from a Thanksgiving visit with my aunt in New Jersey, and stopped at the crash site on the way home to pay our respects.

It was a much different site than what’s there now. It was a makeshift memorial, with messages written in Sharpie on a guardrail and flowers, notes and other mementos hanging on a fence.

My column focused on United 93, because I felt at the time – and still do – that there’s often not as much coverage of and remembrance for those who died on that plane in Pennsylvania or in the Pentagon.

What I wrote that fall, at age 20, expresses my feelings as they are today. It was published in the school’s newspaper – the award-winning College Heights Herald – at the urging of my professor at the time.

Here it is in its entirety:

Everyone remembers where they were that fateful day in September of 2001. It is a day that is burnt into the minds of this generation and it will affect the whole country for years to come.

The televisions showed footage of the World Trade Center as a plane flew into it, it caught fire and hundreds of people jumped to their deaths. It was a horrible tragedy and the whole country mourned.

That same day, there were also things that no one saw. No cameras were there to see the plane that hit the Pentagon, and there was no news station in that field in Shanksville where Flight 93 went down as it was headed for Washington, D.C. No one saw what took place, just the debris and destruction left behind. In fact, many people don’t often remember that there were two other planes.

Tens of thousands of people visit Ground Zero each week in New York City to see the wreckage of the World Trade Center, to pay their respects to those whose lives were lost. In the heart of one of the biggest cities in the world, it’s hard not to remember. But go a few hours south of there to Shanksville, where the scene is completely different.

In the mountains of Pennsylvania, off of a quiet road that once led to a strip mine, is the site of the crash of Flight 93. The actual crater made by the plane went down 54 feet into the ground. It’s now filled, fenced off, and only accessible to family members of those who were on board.

On a hill close by, is a memorial site, where up to 7,000 people come every week to pay their respects to those brave passengers. Various items are left at the memorial: flowers, hats, flags, rosaries. A well-worn firefighter’s uniform hangs from a fence. A guardrail set up in the makeshift parking lot is covered with the wishes and prayers of some of the visitors from all over the United States.

There isn’t much talk about Flight 93 in the media, except that it was headed for Washington, D.C. – just 20 minutes away by plane – but never made it because of a group of passengers. Todd Beamer, who was last heard on a cell phone saying “Let’s roll,” was one of those passengers. They are believed to have tried to regain control of the plane, which is why it never got to Washington.

At the site is what they’re calling a “temporary memorial” until a permanent one is built. There is a tiny shelter where 43 volunteers working two-hour shifts every day from 10 a.m. until dark stand and tell visitors about the crash and the site. Volunteers give an address for financial contributions, show photos people took that lived nearby and invite visitors to write their thoughts in a guestbook.

It is hard to understand how so many visitors come to the memorial. It is not publicized, there are very few signs on the main road that let you know here it is and the media seem to pay relatively no attention.

A story was done by a local paper on a Bible that was found completely intact after the crash, atop a pile of charred mail. Otherwise there is no way people really can find out where the memorial is. National news concentrates on the Trade Center towers when talking about 9/11 and the other two planes are seemingly lost and forgotten.

Not that it should be glorified, but Flight 93 needs to be recognized too. Our country would be a completely different place if the terrorists on that plane had succeeded. All the lives that were lost took a toll on our country and will continue to as long as there is terrorism.

But when you think about that day, think about everyone that our country lost. So many innocent people died in a more horrible way than any of use could ever dream of and each and every one deserves a proper memorial, especially those that bravely gave their lives to protect so many others from the same fate.

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