Commemoration marks Pa. 9/11 crash
Shanksville memorial

Shanksville, Pa. – The people’s temporary memorial to the victims of hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed here on Sept. 11, 2001, sits atop a rugged hill, unbending in blustery wind. On the other side of the tiny road leading to the site, rest two rusting draglines, huge mechanical shovels to strip coal, abandoned nearly a decade ago by a coal company.

Thousands joined families and friends of the 40 people who died in the crash and residents of Shanksville and Somerset County for a commemoration service here this Sept. 11.

The Johnstown Symphony signaled the beginning of the service with Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for a Common Man,” reminding all that action by ordinary passengers and crew apparently prevented the plane from reaching its target, believed to have been the White House.

But the music also brought to mind the dignity and compassion of this small Pennsylvania community (Somerset County’s population is 80,000, Shanksville Borough has about 264 residents). Like thousands across the state, its residents housed victims’ families and hosted nearly 1,000 visitors to the crash site per day. It also galvanized Western Pennsylvania into raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the families and the establishment of a national park. Congress passed a bill for the park, which is now awaiting President Bush’s signature.

Quiet followed the Symphony’s last notes.

The sound system struggled to bring to the audience the words of Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot, Jason Dahl, and 11-year-old Murial Borza, whose sister, Deora Bodley, 20, perished in the crash.

“Dr. Martin Luther King said that what does not destroy us will make us stronger,” Sandy Dahl said. “We can depart with the gift of hope, hope for our children, hope for our future, and hope for our everlasting freedom.”

Borza asked for a “moment of peace” when the world would “do something good.”

Following the reading of all 40 names and the ringing of a bell, 40 peace doves were released. The 911th Airlift Wing based at Pittsburgh Airport flew over in salute.

USAir flight attendants, members of the American Flight Attendants (AFA) Union, placed a wreath at the fence surrounding the crash site. The union is raising money for a memorial in Kitty Hawk, N.C., to all the flight attendants killed on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Our union produced a wonderful magazine which I laminated,” Tammy Sue Burlesen-Berkoben told the World. She held it up for the national news media. “We, the flight attendants are raising the money. To the airlines, we are just a number.”

Also in her United Airlines flight attendant’s uniform was AFA member Alice Hoglan, whose son, Mark Bingham, died in the crash. In the last year, Hoglan has become an activist for airline safety and gay rights. Mark Bingham was gay. She rails against the “remarkably recalcitrant and immovable” attitude of the airline industry. Asked if the industry had harassed her, Hoglan responded, “My job is not worth my silence.”

Hoglan has refused to accept a federal government compensation plan because it requires that she surrender her right to sue the airlines, and has joined a trillion-dollar suit against Saudi Arabia and 80 other defendants.

In the evening, Somerset Alliance Church hosted a service for the families and residents. Sitting upright in the pew was Ron Hileman, one of the miners rescued at Ququenessing Creek a month ago. Darrill Bodley father of Deora Bodley performed an original piano solo, “Steps to Peace for Deora.” He was part of a delegation of families who went to Afghanistan last year in the name of peace.

Expressions of remembrance for the people on Flight 93, from hard hats and union buttons to motorcycle club colors and insignia, fill the people’s temporary memorial. Charlie Fox, director of the Somerset Historical Society, and his staff are carefully cataloging all the items for the national park. Already two storage rooms are filled.


Denise Winebrenner Edwards
Denise Winebrenner Edwards

Denise Winebrenner Edwards is a long-time trade union and community activist. She lives in western Pennsylvania.