This year’s Flight 93 National Memorial remembrance service was not only about paying solemn respect to the past.
The future was envisioned, too.
Wednesday’s ceremony took place just one day after the National Park Service held a groundbreaking for a visitors complex that is scheduled to open in late 2015. The center will be used as a way to teach future generations about the 40 passengers and crew members who died aboard United Airlines Flight 93 during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“I am confident that when people come here in the future and see this memorial and this beautiful park and the visitors center and the learning center, they will have an experience that engages, educates, teaches and inspires,” said Dr. Brent Glass, a former member of the memorial’s advisory board, which dissolved on Tuesday.
The aircraft crashed into what was then an empty Somerset County field after those on board fought back against al-Qaida hijackers.
“To the families, I’d like to say we’re entrusted with the final resting place of your loved ones,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell with a cracked voice and tear-filled eyes. “We’re in the forever business. We’ll make sure to protect this ground, make sure that future generations know this story.”
Some speakers discussed changes that have occurred over the past dozen years.
“We will never know the true extent of how our lives were transformed that day,” said Gordon Felt, the Families of Flight 93 president. “All of us have been and will continue to be affected by the change brought forth as a result of September 11, 2001.
“Whether it was the devastating loss of a loved one or loss of innocence for an entire generation that feels less safe and must live with greater vigilance, we’re not the same people we were 12 years and one day ago.
“There’s no closure for our pain. We cannot afford to forget nor can we return to our lives as they were prior to September 11, 2001.
“Yet, over these past 12 years, we’ve come to understand that we can evolve, we can move forward, honoring the memories of those lost on September 11, inspired by their heroic actions here in the skies over southwest Pennsylvania, in New York at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon.”
Jeff Reinbold, the park’s manager, added, “Something very special has happened here in the last 12 years. From tragedy has sprung hope and a beautiful memorial where we remember, where we take stock of who we are and who we strive to be.”
Along with several speeches, the ceremony included songs performed by the U.S. Navy Band’s Sea Chanters and the reciting of all 40 names accompanied by bell tolls.
A wreath-laying took place, involving U.S. Navy QM2 Matthew Konchan, a Richland Township resident. Konchan is a crew member of the pre-commissioned USS Somerset, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. It was the first time he attended the annual Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at Flight 93.
“It’s breathtaking,” Konchan said. “It’s an honor, privilege; probably one of the only times that I’ll get to see something like this.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.