By KIRK SWAUGER
Somerset — A Colorado congressman wants the federal government to reconsider the crescent-shaped design for the Flight 93 National Memorial – even as family members voice their support of it.
In a letter sent Tuesday to National Park Service Director Fran Mainella, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., said the crescent shape could invite controversy and criticism.
“Regardless of whether or not the invocation of a Muslim symbol by the memorial designer was intentional, it seems such a symbol is unsuitable for paying appropriate tribute to the heroes of Flight 93 or the ensuing American struggle against radical Islam that their last historic act and the ‘Let’s Roll’ effort has come to symbolize,” Tancredo wrote.
A copy of the letter was obtained by The Tribune-Democrat.
“I hope that you will reject this recommended design, and urge the committee to select a more appropriate design,” Tancredo wrote.
Called “Crescent of Embrace,” the design by Paul Murdoch Architects of Los Angeles features a mile-long, semicircular pathway of red maples surrounding the crash site.
Forty innocent passengers and crew, along with four Islamic hijackers, were killed when the plane plummeted into a reclaimed strip mine near Shanksville on Sept. 11, 2001. It was the only one of four hijacked jets that day that did not hit its intended target, believed to be the White House or Capitol.
Murdoch has said the design contained no religious symbolism, and the word crescent was used in a generic architectural sense to describe the bowl-shaped valley around the point of impact.
Earlier this summer, Tancredo angered Muslims by suggesting on a Florida radio program that the United States could “take out” Muslim holy sites if Islamic terrorists attacked us with nuclear bombs, The Associated Press reported.
“There are obvious concerns in having a major symbol of Islam as part of a 9/11 memorial,” Tancredo spokesman Will Adams said in a telephone interview from Washington.
“The memorial should focus on the heroic acts of the passengers of Flight 93 who stopped fundamentalist Muslim terrorists.”
Esther Heymann, whose stepdaughter, Honor Elizabeth Wainio, was killed on Flight 93, said most family members find the design’s recent criticism “insulting,” considering the designs had been on public display for months before “Crescent of Embrace” was selected.
“I’m greatly saddened by it,” Heymann said from her home in Baltimore. “I think there is an overall consensus that the families feel we have been very open and inviting through all of this, long before it reached this point.
“We’re certainly not trying to pay tribute to the terrorists. I find that insulting,” added Heymann, pointing out that red maples are indigenous to Somerset County.
Jack Grandcolas of San Rafael, Calif., whose wife, Lauren, died on Flight 93, agreed.
“I certainly wouldn’t expect the memorial to be a tribute to the hijackers,” he said. “That goes without saying.”
The Rev. Ron McRae, self-proclaimed bishop of Bible Anabaptist Church near Jerome, brought the controversy to the forefront a day after the design was unveiled last week in Washington.
McRae said Street Preachers Fellowship, based in Lancaster, is preparing to file for an injunction to stop the design.
“I’m not the only one in America that sees that,” he said. “Americans are fed up with terrorism, and we’re not stupid. We’re not all politically correct in trying to appease our enemies.”
McRae said he spoke briefly with Murdoch at a ceremony Sunday in Shanksville commemorating the fourth anniversary of 9/11.
“He asked me if I would be willing to sit down with him and the board and express our concerns,” McRae said. “Of course, I’d be willing to do that.
“It would be nice if the powers that be would look at this, go back to the drawing board and start over.”
Jeff Reinbold, project manager for the National Park Service Flight 93 office in Somerset, said he and Park Superintendent Joanne Hanley would not comment on the letter until the agency’s director responds.
A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, said the congressman has no aversion to the design, either in name or shape.
“The Flight 93 National Memorial is the official name,” said Tory Mazzola. “The design had no Islamic intentions.
“Now is the time to continue to focus on the victims,” he added. “This is a tribute honoring the sacrifices they made, and that’s what the Flight 93 National Memorial does.”
The final design for the memorial is required to be submitted to Gale Norton, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, by Sept. 24.