Three sites memorialize September 11th
Scuffed shoes, a crumpled purse, a charred flashlight. These are a few of the 70,000 artifacts at New York City’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
A woman phoned her sister to say that her will was in the closet in a recorded conversation now preserved at the 9/11 Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
And the names of a 3-year-old and a 71-year-old are among those inscribed on a wall at the Pentagon. Both were on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. on September 11, 2001.
These three memorials are the cornerstones of the September 11th National Memorial Trail, an elongated triangle stretching 1,300 miles northwest from Washington, D.C., through Pennsylvania to New York City.
Twenty years ago, on one of the country’s most tragic days, Al Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial airplanes. Two planes destroyed the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, and one slammed into the Pentagon.
Passengers and crew on a fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, prevented the hijackers from colliding into their presumed target in Washington, D.C., crashing the airplane in a Pennsylvania field.
This year, Americans will once again pay tribute to the 2,996 people who died that day, the more than 6,000 others who were injured, and numerous emergency responders and others who tried to help.
“As the years have gone on, we now have children who weren’t alive on September 11th and need to be taught the events of that day and about the effect it had on our nation,” said David Brickley, who founded the September 11 National Patriot Trail Alliance in 2002 and now serves as president emeritus.
Virginia Senator Mark Warner said in a statement, “While we can never repay the sacrifices of our first responders or their families, the September 11th National Memorial Trail provides an opportunity for every American to remember the courageous individuals who sacrificed so much that day.”
The Pentagon Memorial
At the entrance to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial stands the Memorial Gateway, a black granite stone etched with these words: “We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001, to honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and all who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget.”
The memorial consists of 184 cantilevered, stainless steel benches positioned over a lighted pool of flowing water, each inscribed with the name of one victim.
The names of the 125 people killed inside the Pentagon that day face the plane’s point of impact on the building’s south facade. Those honoring the 59 passengers on Flight 77 face the direction of the plane’s approach. (As of press time, the memorial is closed to visitors due to the pandemic.)
UA Flight 93
In western Pennsylvania’s bucolic countryside looms another 9/11 memorial, where United Airlines Flight 93, flying 563 miles per hour and carrying 7,000 gallons of jet fuel, crashed and caught fire, killing 40 passengers, crew members and the four hijackers.
The terrorists’ target may have been the U.S. Capitol or the White House, just 18 minutes away. Passengers and crew, alerted to the other attacks that morning and responding to the command “let’s roll,” overcame the hijackers.
Visitors can walk part of the flight path along a black granite walkway. A nearly mile-long walk leads to a wall inscribed with the 40 victims’ names at the crash site. Forty individually-tuned, steel chimes in the 93-foot Tower of Voices ring in perpetuity for the deceased.
Inside the nearby museum, an exhibit recounts that day, minute-by-minute, and displays artifacts such as part of a driver’s license, identification cards, toiletry fragments, a baseball cap, an airfone, seatbelts and airplane shards. Most of the airplane and its contents were destroyed in the fiery explosion.
Ground Zero, New York City
The 9/11 Memorial and Museum occupy the site of the collapsed Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. Visitors start in an above-ground pavilion and descend into the cavity of the original complex to view the museum’s exhibits and artifacts.
In the museum’s Memorial Hall, a quotation by Virgil stretches 60 feet: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Each letter was made from steel recovered from the World Trade Center.
Forming the backdrop for those words are 2,983 individual watercolor squares in varying shades of blue. The mosaic, created by artist Spencer Finch, is titled “Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on that September Morning.” It invokes both the brilliant blue sky on 9/11 and the precious lives lost.
A concrete staircase on display is called the Survivors’ Stairs because hundreds of people successfully escaped a nearby building, 5 World Trade Center, that morning.
In another gallery, a 36-foot column bears inscriptions, mementos and signatures from workers who cleared the site.
Another exhibit displays 60 feet of a 1960s “slurry wall,” built for the original World Trade Center to hold back the Hudson River. The rest of the 80-foot-tall wall, which survived the attack and continues to prevent flooding in Lower Manhattan, still stands today as a symbol of resilience and strength.
This year’s events
Multiple events are scheduled for Sept. 11, 2021, including:
Women’s March — From Sept. 5 to 11, Washington’s Military Women’s Memorial will have a 174-mile relay march from Pennsylvania’s Flight 93 Memorial to the Military Women’s Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, to recognize the 174 women killed in combat zones since 9/11. It will culminate on September 11 in a public ceremony at the Military Women’s Memorial.
Tour de Trail — The September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance will host its third annual Tour de Trail in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands on September 18, 2021. Visit 911trail.org/tour-de-trail.html.
Flight 93 Ceremony — Friends of Flight 93 will host a 20th anniversary event on Sept. 11 at the Pennsylvania memorial.
20th Anniversary Commemoration — The New York Memorial Plaza will host a commemoration on Sept. 11, inviting family members of the deceased to gather and read aloud the names of those killed in the attacks and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.