A few decades from now, not many American citizens with firsthand memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will be alive to teach future generations about the fateful day.
But, in their place, there will be the Flight 93 National Memorial Visitor Center Complex. It will feature exhibits and information displays designed to educate people about what happened when 40 passengers and crew members aboard United Airlines Flight 93 fought back against al-Qaida hijackers, which resulted in the plane crashing into a Somerset County field. Those individuals likely prevented the aircraft from being used as a weapon, possibly against a target in Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday, dignitaries officially broke ground on the complex construction project.
“We want to remember the 40 that gave their lives as heroes to the country, and we want to make sure that the lessons that we learned from them about taking control in a very difficult situation and making a choice that kept that plane from running into the U.S. Capitol are lessons that children can learn in the future,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “And, hopefully, whether in this country or other countries, the story that’s told here will make this world a better place.”
The National Park Foundation, with help from the Families of Flight 93, Friends of Flight 93 and other organizations, raised more than $40 million for work at the park that already includes the Wall of Names, which lists all 40 passengers and crew members who died in the crash.
Construction on the new complex is expected to be completed in the latter part of 2015.
It will include both a visitor center and learning center.
“You can still imagine being here on Sept. 11, 2001, as Flight 93 roared overhead in its final moments,” said Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of western Pennsylvania’s National Parks. “In the coming months, large curving walls will rise out of the ground. They will start at 15 feet and go to almost 40, 450 feet long. These portal walls will be broken in one place, along the final flight path of Flight 93, dramatically framing views down to the crash site and to the skies above.”
Along with the individuals who participated in the ceremony, several other individuals with connections to Somerset County and western Pennsylvania attended, including Pittsburgh Steelers owner and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney and U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Dearborn, commander of the pre-commissioned USS Somerset.
“It means everything (to be here),” said Rooney. “9/11 was such a powerful tragedy on our nation.”
Dearborn was joined by five other members of the USS Somerset, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock named in honor of the county where the Sept. 11 crash occurred.
“We fully recognize the sacrifice that many have made for us to give us the freedoms that we cherish today,” Dearborn said.
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.