Flight 93 memorial: 10 years later, $10 million short

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 1, 2011 

US NEWS 911-FLIGHT93 2 MCT

A visitor gazes across the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, August 14, 2011, where United Flight 93 crashed. The Flight 93 memorial will be dedicated on Sept. 10, 2011, almost ten years after 9/11.

CURTIS TATE — Curtis Tate/MCT)

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Of the three memorials that commemorate the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, the Flight 93 National Memorial stands out.

It's the only rural site, a world away from the urban bustle that surrounds Ground Zero and the Pentagon. It's the only one Congress has designated as a national park.

And it's the only one of the three that isn't yet fully funded.

Ten years after United Flight 93 slammed into a reclaimed strip mine in southwest Pennsylvania, the Flight 93 National Memorial Campaign is about $10 million short of its $62 million fundraising goal.

"It's a small price to pay to memorialize 40 people who prevented a greater terrorist attack," said King Laughlin, the memorial's chief fundraiser.

Construction started two years ago on the 2,200-acre site, and in spite of the fundraising obstacles, it will reach a basic level of completion by the time it's dedicated on Sept. 10.

"We've done a tremendous amount of work in a short period of time," Laughlin said.

"Actually to be able to touch it and feel it is just amazing," said Calvin Wilson, whose brother-in-law, LeRoy Homer Jr., was Flight 93's co-pilot.

Vice President Joe Biden, former president George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush will attend the dedication, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will lead a bipartisan delegation to the site. President Barack Obama will speak at the memorial service on Sept. 11.

"The 10-year anniversary is going to go a long way in reigniting the interest in finishing this thing," said Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

The memorial still lacks a visitors center and other signature features, including 40 tree groves, representing the passengers and crew who fought the terrorists and gave their lives.

"We're not done yet," said Gordon Felt, the president of the Families of Flight 93, who lost his brother, Edward, on 9/11. "We still have funds to raise."

It comes as no surprise that the World Trade Center memorial was funded in large part by the financial services companies that operate in Lower Manhattan. The attack took place in the heart of New York's financial district, and the sector lost many of its workers that day. Bank of America alone gave $20 million to that memorial. New York's billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, helped raise funds. At the Pentagon, the donor list includes numerous defense contractors, many of which are based nearby in northern Virginia.

But because of the Flight 93 memorial's rural location, 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, it has no natural source of corporate funding. The only thing that united the 33 passengers and seven crew members was the flight manifest.

Laughlin said his group reached out to every Fortune 500 company. Almost all of them turned him down, saying they lacked the money or the memorial didn't fit their guidelines for giving.

"We thought it was a no-brainer until corporations said it doesn't fit into their game plan," Wilson said. "I'm surprised more people haven't been kicking the door down."

Some big companies have chipped in: Pfizer, FedEx, Outback Steakhouse, Discovery Communications, Verizon and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The National Football League and the NFL Players Association also have made major contributions. The Richard King Mellon Foundation made a $1 million donation.

"I'm in no position to tell any corporation where they should spend their money," Felt said. "I want them to give because they believe in it. It's got to come from their hearts."

Part of the problem, Wilson said, is where Flight 93 fits into the story of Sept. 11. Because of where the plane crashed, it hasn't received the attention it deserved.

"Flight 93 has always been a footnote in 9/11, and that's unfortunate," he said. "Sometimes people don't know about the one flight that didn't hit its target. For some reason it doesn't stick, but that doesn't mean we give up."

Wilson said the passengers on Flight 93 prevented an even greater catastrophe.

The 9/11 Commission report said the hijackers redirected the San Francisco-bound flight toward Washington. Their intended target was most likely the White House or the U.S. Capitol. President George W. Bush wasn't in town that day, but Congress was.

"As bad as it was, if they were able to crash the plane and destroy the Capitol dome, it would have been a tremendous blow to the American psyche," Shuster said.

The actions of 40 ordinary people, Wilson said, saved thousands more lives.

"These weren't special forces or firefighters or military. These were people like us," he said. "You don't have to wear a cape with a big 'S' on your chest to be a hero."

If companies won't step up to the plate, Felt thinks individuals will. The National Park Foundation's board of directors will match donations dollar for dollar, up to $2 million.

"The more people are involved, the more ownership the American people have in it," Felt said. "We need this monument so they don't forget."

Jeff Reinbold, the memorial site manager for the National Park Service, said he expected as many as 10,000 people to attend the dedication this month, and a quarter-million visitors to come each year.

"Interest in the site continues to be very strong," he said. "It's amazing the lengths that people go to come to this very simple field."

A very simple field where Americans won the first battle in the war on terrorism, as Shuster described it. The plane's passengers rose up to protect their families and their country.

"That's a great example to all Americans that will stand the test of time," he said. "This is a story we'll be telling our children and grandchildren."

ON THE WEB

The Flight 93 National Memorial Foundation

About the Flight 93 National Memorial

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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