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  • Jerome Kocher

38. A Field of Honor

“A Common Field One Day. A Field of Honor Forever.” These words have become a sacred mantra for the Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I made a pilgrimage there during the 20th anniversary week of 9/11.

Public memorials can be very difficult to conceive. How do you honor an historical event without over dramatizing a tragedy nor romanticizing the people involved.

It can also be controversial. Witness the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington, D.C. which represented a seismic wound in the earth as a black marble wall rose up out of it like a tombstone with the names of more than 50,000 dead. Where were the statues of courage and bravery so typical honoring the deeds of the fallen. For many people the Vietnam Wall appeared as a symbol of defeat and death. But it was a turning point in public memorials. While it honored the grieving process and loss, it became an interactive site of loving devotion with offerings and gifts left behind. Teddy bears, photos, personal touchstones - all part of a deeper ritual of loved ones reaching over the threshold of death to remember and cherish the ones they missed.

Fast forward to Flight 93 Memorial decades later. Unlike the Twin Towers and the Pentagon memorials embedded in urban environments, here I had to drive through the lush green hills and scenic overlooks of the Allegheny mountains in rural west Pennsylvania. Flight 93 is embedded in fields of wild flowers and hemlock forests. What may feel like miles from nowhere, becomes a sanctuary in the heart of nature and a devotional gateway to what is most human.

This is felt through the archetypal symbols in the park that connect us all. The first architectural feature that captures your view near the entrance is the Tower of Voices. What appears to be a bell tower is really an obelisk like form hollowed out to reveal forty wind chimes within its breathing interior. The gentle mountain breezes create soft subtle tones. Each chime represents one of the forty passengers and crew on Flight 93.

Driving further into the park you arrive at the visitor center and lookout. To approach, you must enter along a wide black walkway which mirrors the flight path of United 93 as well as a timeline of events on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Etched into the stone is the time and place of each of the first three planes - North Tower, South Tower, Pentagon . . . There is no time stamp for Flight 93. You continue down the flight path until you arrive at a precipice overlook . . . of the crash site below. Flanked on your side are tall concrete walls, rough textured to represent the wood grain of hemlock plank barns of the area. Sweeping curved double walls echo the swerving of the plane from side to side before it totally inverted and cratered upside down in the valley below.

At the end of the flight path’s outlook you peer down into the cratered crash site which now has also been reseeded with nature and symbolism. There is a three mile loop trail that descends into those past memories. The trail winds through forty groves of newly planted hemlocks, each with forty trees. Through wildflowers and wetlands you descend.

After the crash site had originally been thoroughly investigated by the FBI with the remains of all passengers identified via DNA and myriads of artifacts recovered from the surrounding acres, the fifteen foot crater was filled in, and a 17 ton sandstone placed as a marker. Because there are still unfound remains, the site is hallowed ground and no one is allowed to enter. Except, for three hours once a year on the morning of each 9/11 anniversary, the families are allowed to enter and pay their respects.

The coroner’s temporary boundary of the site has been replaced by another black wall that slants back towards the site, drawing the eye towards the holy field with center stone and hemlock forests beyond. There is a gash in the tree line where 80 hemlocks were burnt down from the heat of the crash.

Walking along the edge of ground zero you notice a pattern of diagonal and straight lines etched into the black peripheral wall as well as the grey walkway. These lines represent the hemlock trees and branches. You eventually come to a white marble wall. From a distance it seems as one continuous boundary. On closer approach you notice there are separated marble tablets each honoring the name of one of the forty passengers and crew. On deeper reflection, these were all separate individuals who in the face of destiny acted as one. The flight path one walked earlier up the hill, now slices through the wall in a direct trajectory towards a center stone in the field. There is a wooden slatted gate of roughly hewn hemlock that marks the threshold into hallowed ground. No one passes through this except the families, once a year.

The experience is ritualistic. One encounters a sacred boundary between life and death. A threshold in the outer world as well as within. And at this sacred site, only the “beloved” are allowed to enter both worlds and approach the 17 ton sandstone marking the epicenter of hallowed ground.

The Flight 93 Memorial captures the human spirit in its symbolism and ritual. There are many ways to look at 9/11. But if any tragedy can be redeemed by deepening our own humanity, then there is saving grace and growth, even out of the ashes.

There are many who view the world as an arbitrary chain of “natural selection” and explained accidents. But there is nothing random about the Flight 93 Memorial. Everything is intentional. Each structure and pathway is a conscious decision to represent the mystery of being human. If a single point of geography can be so imbued with human endeavor and consciousness, how can one not say that all of the forms of Nature and the Human Being are not equally as intentional and designed to reflect a consciousness, a higher purpose.

The design and detail of the Flight 93 Memorial is not a random accident. And neither are we.


Please visit my Photo Tour of Flight 93 Memorial for a more visual impression of its beauty.

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2 komentarze

BlueFlame NoenDragon
BlueFlame NoenDragon
08 paź 2021

This is a reminder also to whom we choose to care about our greatest defeat into a lesson of reuniting humility from both the soul and mind , a remembrance to our Humankind. I cannot thank you enough for this reminder and this recharged faith I seemed to have lost for these days and months after graduation and my situations of life... it is all coming back to me of who I truly become for my rightful name of honor - Catherine Torres

BlueFlame NoenDragon
BlueFlame NoenDragon
08 paź 2021
Odpowiada osobie:

For this I have turned my own page to this journey I have faced with great pain of being taken for granted of me and of my actions being lack of understanding from both difficult times during my workforce, pressure of time, and my lack of freedom I must have a place for my mind to rest. No matter how many times I have been through remorse of my past, Cried of being wasted through lenient and guilty actions that I created from my lack of confidence, and above it all, my heart to be held up with scars. I may not be any of importance to the world for any other than being my own reality with my personal…

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