I recently had the opportunity to visit the Flight 93 Memorial in Southwestern Pennsylvania. I was living in Hoboken and working in New York City on the day of the September 11th attacks in 2001. And though it has been 20 years now since the day it happened, seeing this field and the memorial brought memories of that day (and the days that followed) flooding back. If you visit, bring tissues. Lots of them.
This wonderfully crafted memorial, which was officially dedicated in 2011, is a fitting tribute to the 40 brave men and women onboard the flight that overtook the plane from four hijackers before it could be used as a weapon to attack the Pentagon. The passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93 knew about the two planes that had crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center and the other one that was flown into the Pentagon and learned their plane was also destined for the Pentagon.
These 33 passengers and seven crew members attempted ad attack on the four terrorists who had control over the plane. Due to their efforts, less than 20 minutes flying time outside of Washington, D.C. and the Pentagon, the plane crashed upside down at a speeding pace into a Somerset County field. You can read more about their heroic actions at the official National Park Service website.
The National Memorial is now run by the National Park Service and pays a fitting tribute to those onboard this aircraft. When you first arrive you’ll see the 93 foot tall Tower of Voices. This musical sculpture has 40 wind chimes in honor of each of the fallen. If you are with younger guests, or those who may not know much about Flight 93 or September 11th, I would recommend heading to the visitor center first, so they can have more context about the significance of this structure.
At the visitors center, you’ll find exhibits about that tragic day, and learn much more about those onboard Flight 93. Seeing the carefully crafted displays of their names and photos, along with information about them, really brought these brave souls to life in a way I hadn’t experienced before. They have headphones available with some of the phone calls the passengers made to their loved ones. I could only listen to part of one before I started fully bawling in the midst of strangers, but it is so important that these have been recorded and kept to remind future generations of what these brave civilians did on that day. There’s also an overlook, where you see the field where the plane crashed down.
From the visitors center you can walk to the memorial plaza or you can drive. The shorter walk will take you directly down, or you can do a longer walkway where you’ll see the 40 memorial groves for each of the lives lost that day. At the plaza, you’ll see the debris field and the impact site, where the plane crashed. The wall of names was constructed to recreate the exact flight path of the plane as it landed in the field. Standing at the end of the wall, you’ll see a wooden gate, and just beyond a large boulder which is next to the impact site. It’s a very visual and powerful, and yes, this made my cry too.
The day I visited there was a group of bikers on site, who apparently travel to D.C., this memorial and the World Trace Center and fly 50 flags at each of the parks and then send them to the governors in each state. They do this every year, which I think is just a really special way to remember that day annually.
If you didn’t visit the Tower of Voices on your way in, make sure to visit on the way out. It’s a lovely and abstract bit of the memorial and a little less heavy than the actual site.
If you’re planning on visiting, the Memorial is located at 6424 Lincoln Highway in Stoystown, PA. It’s closest to Pittsburgh, about a 90 minute drive. Plan a few hours for your visit, especially if you choose to walk to the Memorial Plaza. This experience is largely self-guided but there are park rangers on hand for questions or more information.
While this was an emotional experience for me, I do recommend visiting. I’ve personally always felt so connected to the September 11th events that unfolded in New York since they were so close to home. However, seeing this field, which is still burnt and patchy in some areas near the landing site even 20 years later, really did a respectful job of putting a spotlight on the fallen while giving historical context to that fateful day. My heart goes out to these 40 individuals who were lost that day, and to all the other victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks.