A Site to Remember
No design debate. No media noise. Just quiet visitors honoring Flight 93. Lots of them.
11:00 PM, Feb 28, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Mrs. Glessner says that nearly every imaginable religious group has made its way to Shanksville. "Many, many church groups come here and hold prayer circles, and they always invite us to participate. There've been groups from temples and various Native American groups--there've been TM groups and Amish and men in the orange robes."
The memorial itself is filled with religious sentiments. People have left hundreds of rosaries. There is a kneeler with a plaque that reads: "Dedicated to the children of the heroes of Flight 93. Love, the children of a hero from WWII." A sign resting on the kneeler says: "Angels gather here." Forty wooden "freedom angels" sit in rows opposite the fence.
And every surface--message boards, benches, guardrails, flag-poles--is crammed with the scribbled notes of visitors. "May God comfort and bless the families of those on Flight 93 who so bravely fought the enemies of Israel. Shalom," reads one. "May your sacrifice never be forgotten. Glory to God and may He bless all of you," reads another.
As odd as it may seem, such words and sentiments may be less than officially welcome here one day, or less common--when the federal government steps in to make the site its own. Tomorrow is the first meeting, in Shanksville, of an 80-person committee charged with designing the permanent memorial. It has three years to come up with a plan, after which the government has two years to build it. Then the National Park Service will take over and the ambassadors' role will no doubt change.
Mrs. Glessner laughs. "The Park Service people have said, 'Don't think you're going to be unemployed. The National Park Service survives with volunteers, too." Besides, she adds: "I could not say, 'I'm tired of doing it, I don't want to do this anymore.' I feel like we have to be here."
On Sunday the weather has taken a turn for the worse: It's 19 degrees and snowing, and the wind is gusting to 60 m.p.h. I try returning to the memorial but turn back to my bed-and-breakfast after a few miles as the wind shakes my Jeep and causes a near white-out. Over at the memorial, Donna Glessner and her husband have braved the wind and snow. There won't be any visitors in this weather. No matter. They stand watch just the same.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard. This piece originally appeared the February 28, 2003 Wall Street Journal.