In celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary this year, adventurer Mikah Meyer is traveling across America with the goal of visiting every one of the more than 400 parks, monuments and other sites within its jurisdiction.
But not all of Meyer’s destinations are about enjoyment and recreation. He recently visited the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
It was here, on a beautiful sunny morning, where 40 passengers and crew members lost their lives when terrorists took control of their plane and tried to fly it – as was determined later -- on a suicide mission to Washington.
The passengers, aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon near Washington D.C. that had taken place a short time earlier, realized their inevitable fate and decided to fight back.
The huge 757 crashed into a grassy field, killing everyone on board.
The tragic incident in Pennsylvania was one of four attacks orchestrated and carried out by Islamic terrorists against the U.S. on September 11, 2001.
The impact site is marked by a large boulder in the field where Flight 93 crashed.
Field of honor
When Mikah and his friend Andy arrived at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, they immediately felt the difference compared to other parks they’d been visiting, which had mainly been “centers for recreation or outdoor enjoyment.”
“It was very quiet, people weren’t talking a lot; very somber,” Meyer said. “It felt odd to smile for a picture."
A wildflower meadow sweeps down from the Ring Road to the edge of the Wall of Names at the Memorial Plaza.
Meyer described how interpretive panels on the Plaza provide an overview of the Flight 93 story and a cell phone tour provides more in-depth exploration. On a ridge above the Memorial Plaza, the Visitor Center Complex includes an exhibit area and Learning Center.
“Overall, I was impressed with the way that they told the story,” Meyer said. “The Visitor’s Center did a really top-notch job of showing you the news coverage from the day, but also focusing on this plane which probably gets less attention than the ones that actually hit the towers.”
One exhibit in particular made a memorable impression on him.
“They played the voicemails of people who called their loved ones from the plane and basically didn't get through and told them they loved them, told them where their will was; told them the combination to their safe,” he said.
A voicemail flight attendant CeeCee Lyles left for her husband moments before the plane crashed is one of those heart-wrenching messages.
“Tell my children I love them very much…”
In her message, Lyles tells her husband in a steady voice that the plane has been hijacked, tells him she loves him, and says she’s trying to stay calm.
“Tell my children I love them very much,” she says and lets him know she’s aware that a plane has been crashed into the World Trade Center. Her voice finally breaks as she ends the call, tearfully telling him, “I hope to be able to see your face again, baby… I love you. Goodbye.”
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Wall of names
The name of CeeCee Lyles and the 39 other passengers and crew members are engraved on a wall of marble panels situated along the route the plane traveled in its final moments. Each name has its own, separate panel.
“It was really powerful just to learn more about one of the planes from September 11th that gets less coverage than those that hit the Twin Towers,” Mikah said. “I thought it was a real testament to the job the National Park Service did.”
The Wall of Names - one marble panel for each passenger and crew member - follows the flight path of the doomed plane to the crash site.
On Saturday, Sept. 10, 40 candle lanterns will be carried to the Wall of Names and placed below the panel of each of the Flight 93 passengers and crew members.
On Sunday, Sept. 11, the Fifteenth Anniversary Observance will be held adjacent to the Visitor Center. The outdoor service will include brief remarks, special music, a reading of the names of the 40 passengers and crew members of Flight 93, and ringing of the Bells of Remembrance.