Today I made a very unexpected and impulsive decision to visit the Flight 93 Crash Site Memorial in Shanksville. It's taken me 18 years to be able to go there without becoming emotional and having to leave. The last time I tried several years ago, I couldn't get beyond the parking lot. Today I was able to go in - and stay - from behind the safety of my camera.
I sat awhile and observed the other visitors and overheard some of their conversations. Many seemed oblivious to the significance of the site - one man in particular caught my attention as he walked hurriedly past the Wall of Names, engrossed in a conversation about overdue accounts and unpaid invoices (on the Sunday of the 4th of July holiday weekend no less). He never paused or slowed down, never even looked up to acknowledge the 40 names engraved on the wall next to him and what they meant. Nearly everyone who walked the 1/4 mile pathway that leads to the wall stopped to take a photo when they reached it. I was no exception. But most seemed to dismiss it as just another photo op that will end up on Instagram next to a picture of whatever they ate for breakfast that day. One couple smiled happily as they stood in front of the wall after asking a stranger to take just "one quick pic" on their iPhone. Just beyond them, a grandmother took a photo of her teenage grandson giving a double thumbs up for the camera. One more for the scrapbook I guess.
Eighteen years after the tragedy that we swore we would never forget, it seems many of us have indeed forgotten. Most can't see beyond their cell phones to appreciate the sacrifice that was made that day. There were a few exceptions, a few people who stopped for just a moment to write a message of gratitude and condolence to the families, or to read the names on the Wall and acknowledge the courage and strength they showed that day. These few will surely never forget.
Please, if you visit this or any of our national memorials, take a moment to at least read the names of those who sacrificed. The Flight 93 Memorial has an exhibit with pictures of all 40 victims. Take the time to look at them, and think about their lives that were cut short and the families they left behind. Put down your cell phone. Really think about why the memorial is there. It’s designed to mirror the flight path of the plane - look around, think about what that must have been like. The plane was going over 500 miles an hour when it made impact, accelerating as it neared the ground. Can you even imagine what that was like for those on board? It’s not just a tourist attraction. Never forget that.