On a calm September morning, Calvin Wilson walked the trail that 11 years earlier was the scene of his brother-in-law’s death.
The crash, located in Shanksville, was part of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Wilson’s brother-in-law, LeRoy Homer Jr., was a co-pilot on United Airlines Flight 93, a flight that was supposed to fly from Newark, N.J. to San Francisco, Calif. before it was hijacked by four al-Qaida terrorists.
To Wilson, the memorial represents the heroism of the passengers on the plane during this crisis, and a chance for education.
“There is a hero in all of us and we don’t know when that light will be switched on,” Wilson said. “The people on this flight were just like us. They put aside their differences and became one unit. They sacrificed their lives, and saved so many more in D.C.”
The Flight 93 Memorial is dedicated to the 40 heroes that took back the plane after it was hijacked during the terrorist attacks.
This year’s ceremony began with a moment of silence at 10:03 a.m. recognizing the moment that the plane crashed in the field behind the memorial. The service consisted of a few key speakers, including Vice President Joe Biden.
“Today, we stand on this hallowed ground, a place made sacred by the heroism and sacrifice of the passengers and the crew of Flight 93,” Biden said. “And it’s as if the flowers, as I walked here, as if the flowers were giving a testament to how sacred this ground is.”
Families of the Flight 93 passengers gathered for the service, where tears were shed amid feelings of honor, while they saw their beloved one’s names written on the marble wall lining the flight path.
While many families of the passengers are different, they come together on this day to recognize what their relatives did for this country during the attacks 11 years ago.
“They showed us how to band together and fight back,” said Ken Salazar, U.S. secretary of the Interior. “They earned eternal honor and gave us our first glimmer of hope.”
Family members walked through the gate leading to the crash site — an opportunity only open to family members — where memorabilia and flowers honored their loved ones.
“This is a very peaceful, restful and perfect tribute for the 40 heroes of Flight 93,” said Cheryl Homer-Wilson, who’s brother was a co-pilot on the plane. “I know that my brother and the other 39 passengers and crew are in a final resting place together.”
Wilson recalls Sept. 11 perfectly, and said he was in Detroit when his wife, Homer-Wilson, called as soon as she heard about the plane crashes in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.
At first, Wilson thought the plane couldn’t have been his brother-in-law’s, but later confirmation showed that he co-piloted the flight that crashed in Shanksville.
“I was numb for days trying to comprehend what had happened,” he said. “We were looking forward to him coming back after spending a lot of time apart.”
Another passenger’s family member, Christine Fraser, said she also remembers that day perfectly.
Fraser recalls taking her sister, Colleen L. Fraser, to the airport in Newark, N.J. that day.
“My back had been out and Colleen said that it was a gorgeous day and that I should go walk around the park after I dropped her off at the airport,” said Fraser.
After going to Dunkin’ Donuts and following what her sister had told her, Fraser heard on the radio about the terrorist attacks in New York City.
Thinking about her sister, Fraser knew that she had to get to a TV, where she watched the footage of the World Trade Center’s final minutes.
“My stomach felt funny. I knew something wasn’t right,” Fraser said.
Shortly after, she found out about her sister’s flight in Shanksville, and said that she comes to the memorial four times a year to pay respect to her sister.
Fraser, as well as the other family members, are pleased with the progress of the memorial and how it has turned out so far.
Besides the wall and trail commemorating the loss, the future holds a visitor’s center, a learning center and a pond with 40 trees, representing each person who died, said Siobhan O’Riordan, Park Partners Support for the memorial.
“The 40 trees will be standing like brothers and sisters, arm in arm,” said Patrick White, president of the Families of Flight 93, who also spoke at the ceremony.
O’Riordan said that there is the possibility of a “tower of voices,” where there will be 40 individually tuned bells for each of the passengers.
Behind the wall in the area of the flight path, there lies a boulder that represents the area of the crash site.
Homer-Wilson said that the boulder is an excellent marker for remembering where the passengers perished, for it marks the final burial ground of the 40 on the flight.
The purpose of the memorial, to many, is to educate younger generations about the events that occurred on Sept. 11, since many children were too young and unaware of the tragedies that occurred.
Wilson, who is part of the construction committee for the Flight 93 Memorial, said she feels that education is important at this site.
“I want people to come back here and not be reminded of the horror, but instead think of what these heroes did here for this country,” said Wilson.
Construction will continue for the memorial, as they are still waiting for the funding needed to complete the project, he said.
As for the future of the memorial, Biden, and others, state that the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93 will not be forgotten.
“They’ve not forgotten the heroism of your husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers,” Biden said. “And that what they did for this country is still etched in the minds of not only you, but millions of Americans, forever.”
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