The Magazine

Flight 93 Remembered

While government dithers, Americans build their own memorials.

Dec 24, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 15 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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He closed on the property a few days later and set to work restoring it by himself. There was only one electrical outlet, which had to provide power for both lighting and tools. The walls and ceiling needed to be torn out and rebuilt. There wasn't much money. Father Al was buying supplies $50 at a time at the local lumber yard, whenever he could spare the cash. One day the manager noticed the priest who kept coming back and buying bits of this and that. He asked what sort of project he was working on. Father Al told him about his plans for the chapel. The manager called Maggie Hardy Magerko, who owns the 84 Lumber Company, and relayed the story.

Hardy Magerko immediately gave Father Al a $23,000 grant toward materials for the restoration. That August, she came by the church to visit and saw how truly desperate the condition of the place was. She sent out a call to carpenters and craftsmen and put a small army of professional builders at Father Al's disposal. They worked around the clock for ten days, using the sketches he had drawn on Christmas as their blueprints. As Father Al tells it, at 4:00 P.M. on September 10, 2002, "the artist applying gold leaf paint to the trim in the sanctuary put his brush down and the work was complete." The Flight 93 Memorial Chapel was finished.

The Union City memorial and Flight 93 chapel have more in common than their private origins. There are people who view the passengers and crew of Flight 93 as victims to be mourned. And then there are people like Michael Emerson and Father Al who insist that these are heroes to be celebrated.

The same contrast can be seen between the private projects and the government's own memorial plans. The proposed national memorial in Shanksville has yet to break ground, but it will commemorate Flight 93 in a less-than-triumphal manner. It's mainly a landscaped park, including a "healing" wetlands area and 40 groves of trees laid out in a giant circle. Union City's purposeful wall of stones couldn't be more different.

At the entrance to the federal memorial will be a "Tower of Voices" that will feature 40 wind chimes designed to whisper constantly on behalf of the departed. The Flight 93 Memorial Chapel has a voice, too, a half-ton bell cast in 1860. It was donated by a friend, and Father Al has rechristened it "Thunder Bell."

Thunder Bell hangs in a new 44-foot-high steel-frame belfry and can be rung by anyone who visits the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel. Its sound can be heard at the crash site, three miles away.

Jonathan V. Last is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.