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At Flight 93 crash site, family members return; lack of hoopla welcome

Friday, September 12, 2003

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

STONYCREEK, Pa. -- Bagpipe music drifted over a hill and into this tranquil valley as nearly 40 family members returned to weep, pray and leave flowers on the ground that swallowed their loved ones on Sept. 11, 2001.

A special Flight 93 flagged was unveiled hourly to commemorate those who were killed when the jet crashed. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

An 80-member task force formed in January has established a Web site, www.flight93memorialproject. org, that offers visitors a chance to express their views about how the permanent memorial should look.

At 10:06 a.m., bells tolled at the Somerset County Firemen's Association Training Center to mark the moment when United Airlines Flight 93 plunged into the earth, its 40 passengers and crew apparently fighting to wrest control from terrorists believed to be flying the plane to Washington, D.C.

"Countless innocent lives were saved by those courageous passengers," Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said yesterday in Washington, after the 40 were awarded Congressional Gold Medals.

The second anniversary of the day when Flight 93 passengers defied terrorists passed quietly, in contrast to what a Johnstown man called the "hoopla" that attended the first anniversary.

Gale Norton, secretary of the interior, placed a large floral wreath topped by an American flag at the crash site.

A half-hour later, under a large white tent set up in a valley east of the site, she addressed a crowd of 300, including the victims' families and friends, volunteers from nearby Shanksville, residents, community leaders and National Park Service staff.

Norton recalled Abraham Lincoln's address at Gettysburg in 1863, when he said it would be impossible to dedicate, consecrate or hallow the ground beyond what had been done by the brave men who fought and died there.

"As I look around this field, Lincoln's words ring true again," Norton said.

More than 10,000 mementos have been left at the temporary memorial, including religious medals, flags and wooden angels. Such tokens, Norton said, are "reminders of sympathy, courage, duty, country, honor and faith."

Then, Norton swore in the 13 men and two women who make up the new federal commission that will decide how the permanent memorial will look.

Kristee Mitchell, right, of Wakefield, Va., greets her friend Patti Fye of Culver, Pa. on the second anniversary of Sept. 11. The women met at the first anniversary and have kept in touch. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

Five of the commission members lost relatives on Flight 93. Among them is Gerald Guadagno, father of Richard Guadagno, the only federal law enforcement agent who was aboard the plane. Richard Guadagno, 38, of Eureka, Calif., was manager of the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Norton told a story about Richard Guadagno apprehending a motorist who was shooting from his car in a wildlife refuge in Oregon. Armed only with a pen-sized flashlight, Guadagno hid in a ditch until the gunman's car neared. He then jumped up, surprised the armed motorist and took him into custody.

"I like to think he was part of whatever the passengers did on that plane. ... A man who faced down a gun armed only with a flashlight might have faced down a terrorist," Norton said.

A steady stream of veterans, motorcyclists, family members and flight attendants comforted one another at the spontaneous but temporary memorial, which has drawn about 200,000 visitors over the last two years. Some seemed disappointed by the small crowd while others preferred it that way.

Alice Hogland, mother of Flight 93 victim Mark Bingham, applauds volunteer ambassadors at yesterday's ceremonies. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

"I thought there would be a bigger turnout today," said Bob Robert, a General Motors retiree from Sarasota, Fla.

Tom Cartwright, a lawyer from Johnstown, was glad he could find a parking spot easily and reflect on events without fighting crowds.

Cartwright said Somerset County residents were "quiet, reserved and normal people. This is probably the way it should be -- real quiet and pleasantly dignified."

Cartwright was among the men who bowed their heads at 10 a.m. on the hill where the temporary memorial stands. The wind, usually a constant presence, died down and flags stopped luffing. The visitors stood and observed nearly six minutes of silence while holding an outspread Flight 93 flag.

Then, Jo Ann Ferrara, a Harrisburg resident and United Airlines flight attendant for 37 years, led the crowd in "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America."

Slowly, and with the help of several military veterans, the crowd folded the flag into a large triangle and handed it to Gene Stilp, the Harrisburg man who designed it. Stilp is one of 30 volunteers who staff the site and answer visitors' questions.

Monica Brancato of Rockwood, Pa., flies one of the memorial kites near the Shanksville site. The Memorial Kite Project is the brainchild of Highland Park's Michael Sciarretti. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

"I think it's important that we don't forget what happened here and the impact that it had on all of us," Ferrara said.

On the Monday after 9/11, Ferrara said, she resumed flying and landed in Newark, N.J., the departure point of Flight 93.

She said she returned to the skies to show her college-age daughter that "You don't cower in the corner. You get back out there. I was hesitant at first. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it."

In Harrisburg, more than 1,000 people who'd gathered in Soldiers' Grove, a park across the street from the state Capitol, fell silent just after 10 a.m. yesterday as the names of the 30 Pennsylvanians who died on Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the names of the Flight 93 victims were slowly read aloud.

Recalling the efforts of Flight 93 passengers to try to take control of the plane and keep it from hitting its intended target, Gov. Ed Rendell said, "Forty passengers and crew members died in that field, and many of them died as heroes, protecting us from an even greater tragedy. We all remember their sacrifice."

At least two more anniversaries will pass before any permanent memorial is built. The commission members sworn in yesterday must recommend plans for the memorial to Congress by Sept. 11, 2005.

Marylynne Pitz can be reached at or 412-263-1648.

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