At Flight 93 memorial, sense of loss, grace
SHANKSVILLE, Pa. – Some of the writing in the guestbook is elegant script, some a labored scrawl. The notes are from Maine, Michigan, South Carolina, Idaho, Florida and many states in between. All of them were written in the last 24 hours.
In this quiet, remote part of western Pennsylvania, people from all over the country came pay their respects to the passengers and crew of United Flight 93, which crashed into a desolate field nearly 10 years ago.
Family members of those who died on Flight 93 shed tears Friday, but they also celebrated the spirit of the crash site's guestbook — a rare feeling that people from vastly different walks of life had come together.
"I don't focus on what happened. You can't change that," said Lorne Lyles, whose wife, CeeCee Ross Lyles, had been working as a United Airlines flight attendant for only nine months on that September morning in 2001.
"Coming here is more of a celebratory thing. She's been memorialized," Lyles said. "Just to see the outpouring from all over the world is touching. You really do have some caring people in the world."
That's not how things usually go at his job as a police officer near Tampa, Fla.
"I don't see too many caring people," Lyles said. "But this memorial is truly dear to my heart. That's what I'm more focused on."
He paused, and looked around the small room that has served as a temporary gathering place for visitors. The room has some of the tributes that have been left behind in honor of the passengers and crew who forced the four terrorists to crash the plane before it could hit a target in Washington, likely the Capitol or the White House.
There's a birdhouse with a hand-painted condolence. A note written in Japanese. A patch from the C-5 Nightriders Special Operations group. An inscribed softball. A note from the Chicago Bomb Squad said that the passengers and crew, by confronting the terrorists, had lived up to the squad's motto: "Here I am. Send me."
"To see the other side of humanity — that's just truly a blessing," Lyles said in a calm voice.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar spoke at the site Friday, a day ahead of the planned dedication of the first phase of the Flight 93 National Memorial. He noted that for all the progress on the memorial, there's still work to be done.
Public and private donors have contributed $52 million, but $10 million more is needed to build a true visitors center and to finish landscaping, Salazar said.
"We will not be able to complete the site" without additional funding, he said.
Gordon Felt, president of the Families of Flight 93 group, noted that many people had come together to create the memorial. The planned attendance this weekend of former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, he said, underscored the importance of the Flight 93 Memorial "for us, and for all Americans."
Flight 93 National Memorial: http://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm