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Plans Underway for 9/11 Memorial at United 93 Crash Site

The crash of United Flight 93 was almost an afterthought in the media frenzy on September 11th, 2001. Later it was learned that those who died when it crashed in Pennsylvania had been trying to take control of the plane from terrorists. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports on plans to build a permanent memorial at the crash site.

The roar of the machines that once mined coal here faded away several decades ago. Rusting cranes stand guard over hallowed ground marked by both personal and public tributes.

Messages of thanks and respect are left by visitors who had never heard of this place before September 11th, 2001. Tens of thousands come from all over the world to Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

The site is managed by Jeff Reinbold with the National Park Service. He told us, "We have about 130,000 people that come to what is, essentially, a parking lot and a fence overlooking a field. The number of people drawn here without any marketing on our part is pretty astounding."

The fence does more than just overlook the field. It holds the prayers and wishes of people across the planet changed by an event that forever transformed this abandoned strip mine.

This is the final resting place of 40 passengers and crew members of United Flight 93 who tried to regain control of the plane from the terrorists who hijacked it. During that struggle the plane crashed into this patch of land in the heart of Pennsylvania.

"I saw it nose dive straight into the ground down there!" recalled an eyewitness.

Donna Glessner remembers the sounds of that day. "Suddenly there was this tremendously loud explosion. Booming noise. Shook the house. Rattled the windows. The power went out."

The shockwave that rattled her windows changed this small community.

Glessner now runs the "Ambassadors" volunteer group that educates visitors at the crash site. She knows well the lessons learned that day.

"No place is so remote that it is beyond the reach of international events or terrorism in particular, and that's shocking," says Glessner.

Gordon Felt's brother, Edward, was a passenger on Flight 93. He makes the trip from upstate New York several times a year to visit the temporary memorial.

"It's overwhelming to realize that so many people that are coming here want to leave something, want to make a mark,” says Gordon. “I think because people connect with this memorial. The fact was the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93 could have been any of us."

Deborah Borza's daughter, Deora Bodley, was with Gordon Felt's brother on Flight 93.

She told us, "The passengers and crew on that flight had a decision to make. And for me it was a decision that was going to make the biggest difference. The biggest difference for people around the world. And this memorial being built is that opportunity for other people around the world to come here and for them to realize the difference that they can make."

Gordon Felt, Deborah Borza and other family members of Flight 93 are actively involved in the campaign to build a permanent memorial.

A wooden model at the National Park Service office is the winner of the design competition. It utilizes the entire landscape surrounding the crash site -- close to 400 hectares of land.

Part of the plan calls for a large ringed tree grove around the crash site and a visitor’s center. Reinbold explains why the building is necessary. "We needed a facility that was able to tell the story of September 11th. The ground itself doesn't do that. It is a very fitting and appropriate way to pay tribute to them, but the other part, the other purpose of this site is to tell the story and make sure it's not lost."

Items that will eventually be included in the visitors center are already piling up.

Barbara Black of the National Park Service collects the tributes people leave at the temporary memorial.

"Some of the things that amaze me are the things that mean the most to them and they are leaving them as a sign of respect… a sign of honor,” says Black. “ Something like these boots from Afghanistan that a young soldier left. He wore those in Afghanistan right after September 11th, 2001, and he left them as a sign of honor."

The Flight 93 National Memorial Campaign needs both public grants and private donations to move forward with construction on the permanent memorial. Several sponsors have already committed more than $10 million. The goal to get the project completed by September 11th, 2011 -- the 10th anniversary of the attacks -- is $58 million.