Years of hard work by the National Park Service, the Families of Flight 93, and thousands of volunteers will come to fruition this weekend at the official dedication ceremony of the new Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Joe Biden will speak at the dedication ceremony and Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan will perform. Other dignitaries including former first lady Laura Bush, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett will also attend.
The beauty of the new Flight 93 memorial is its simplicity - it serves mainly as an accent to the beautiful, wide-open countryside, a peaceful, fitting tribute to the Flight 93 passengers and crew who died when the plane crashed in Somerset County on September 11th, 2001. "It's a landscape memorial," said Jeff Reinbold, site manager of the Flight 93 National Memorial. "Don't think about a monument in Washington D.C. Think of a place like Gettysburg. We thought people should experience rural Pennsylvania."
A black slate walkway following the plane's approximate flight path leads to a ceremonial gateway and wall of honor, where 40 white granite wall pieces are each carved with the name of one of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. The walls and walkway are part of a Memorial Plaza that overlooks the Sacred Ground that is the plane's crash site and final resting place of the passengers and crew. From there the solemn pathway continues along the flight path to the crash site marked with a 17-ton boulder. Only the relatives of the 40 men and women aboard Flight 93 are allowed entrance to the Sacred Ground.
A visitor's shelter, paved parking areas and restrooms have also been completed to date. Three sweet gum trees, part of a donation of 40 sweet gum trees made by New York's National September 11 Memorial & Museum, were recently planted at the entryway to the Flight 93 memorial in Somerset County to symbolize the unity of the three September 11 memorial locations. The remining 37 sweet gums are being planted between the memorial's wall of names and the western overlook.
While this first of three phases of the $62 million dollar Flight 93 National Memorial will be dedicated and open to the public on September 10th - the day before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks - the Flight 93 memorial is the only one of the three major September 11th tributes that remains to be fully funded and constructed. Approximately $20 million has been raised to date from private donations through fundraising led by the National Park Foundation in coordination with project partners, including the Families of Flight 93, the Flight 93 Federal Advisory Commission, the Friends of the Flight 93 National Memorial, and the National Park Service. Additional funds have been committed by the federal government (approximately $14 million) and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (approximately $18.5 million). A little over $10 million in funding is still necessary to complete the memorial. To assist in raising this money, the National Park Foundation recently announced a $2 million challenge grant to match donations, dollar for dollar, up to $2 million for the memorial.
Additional September 11 commemoration events are also planned at the Flight 93 memorial throughout the weekend, including the September 11th commemoration ceremony to be held at 9:30 a.m. on September 11, 2011 - 10 years to the hour that the brave souls on Flight 93 collectively took action on the plane to thwart the terrorists.
Over 1 million visitors from around the world have traveled to the Flight 93 memorial site since 2001 and visitor numbers are expected to grow. The new Flight 93 National Memorial creates a place that not only remembers the 40 heroes of Flight 93 but also inspires ordinary citizens to act in their own heroic ways, while serving as the only unit of the national park system chronicling the events and people of September 11, 2001.
For those planning to attend the Flight 93 National Memorial Dedication on September 10, 2011, or the September 11th Commemoration Ceremony, allow at least two hours to park and get through security. You can also watch the Flight 93 National Memorial Dedication LIVE at 12:30 p.m. at www.Flight93Dedication.org and history.com/flight93.