As the September 11th terrorist attacks unfolded in New York and Washington, with three hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a fourth plane hovered over Pennsylvania, on course for the nation's capital. But an uprising by the passengers and the crew of United Flight 93 thwarted the terrorists' plans. Today, in Shanksville, Pa., at the spot where Flight 93 crashed, there was a groundbreaking for a permanent memorial.
Today, the field is very much the same as it was eight years ago. It is quiet and pastoral with few physical hints of the scars left on 9/11 when Flight 93 hit the ground nose first.
"Our challenges pale in comparison to what our loved ones faced on that fateful morning," said Gordon Felt, president of Families of Flight 93.
That fateful morning a group of strangers, learning of the attacks on New York and Washington, voted to take their plane back. The place that their journey ended 80 miles from Pittsburgh has become a pilgrimage site. A small monument lists the names of those who were on board.
Donald Peterson was one of them.
"It's a field of honor, because it memorializes the sacrifice of the 40 passenger and crew members who gave their lives to protect the nation's capitol," said Hamilton Peterson, Donald Peterson's son.
His grandsons were among the children shoveling dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony for what families hope will be a teachable memorial.
"The message of Flight 93 is that we all must participate. If we don't, we're destined to fail," Peterson said.
Most of the passengers aboard Flight 93 were from New Jersey, where the plane took off, or California, where it was headed. Deora Bodley, a 20-year-old college student returning to California after visiting friends, was the youngest.
"To have the children turning the ground, and knowing Deora had a love and passion for children, just really warmed my heart," said her mother, Deborah Borza.
The memorial will feature long paths and groves of trees. A tower of wind chimes will rise 93 feet. The design was picked from hundreds entered in a competition four years ago.
"To try to create a sense of reverence and awe, and we've used the land to do that," said Paul Murdoch, architect of the Flight 93 Memorial.
So far, more than 50,000 donors have given $16 million to see the memorial built. The government has contributed millions more. The memorial will be the focal point of a 2,000 acre park run by the National Park Service.
"We in the United States of America forever will be thankful for what they did," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The main part of the Flight 93 memorial is due to be built by September 11th, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks. You can learn more about the memorial at honorflight93.org.