SHANKSVILLE, Penn. — Flowers often lay at the base of the Wall of Names at the Flight 93 National Memorial. But on a middle-of-July day, the arrangement sitting at the base of the marble memorial for Lorraine G. Bay was the only one to be seen.
That’s because July 20 was her birthday.
Her husband, Erich, left them for her, as he does every year.
“I actually saw him that day,” said Stephen Clark, the superintendent of the Flight 93 National Memorial, as well as several other national parks in western Pennsylvania.
“I came up to him to say hi,” Clark said, recalling Erich placing the flowers along the Wall of Names. “I said, ‘How you doin’?’ He looks at me and says, ‘Man. It’s tough. Especially on days like today.’ “
Each year, Erich comes from his home in New Jersey to pay loving tribute to his wife, who was a flight attendant on United Flight 93 when it crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Clark said Erich, now in his 80s, lights up when asked to share stories about his wife, stories that include everything from funny moments during plane flights to the birthdays and anniversaries she always remembered.
She had, in fact, dropped a pair of greeting cards at a post office on her way to Newark International Airport to board a flight to San Francisco on 9/11. She also considered calling in sick early that morning, according to information at the memorial.
The memory of Lorraine G. Bay the other 39 crew members and passengers on United Flight 93 live on in a field not far from the metropolis of Pittsburgh but remote enough to serve as a serene resting place.
“The more people understand what these individuals did, the more special it is,” Clark said. “What they knew and what they purposefully did in preventing in all likelihood that plane from hitting the U.S. Capitol. This nation would have gotten over it, but the world would have been a lot different if that had occurred.
“They basically said, ‘Not here, not now. We have to do something.’ That’s what’s really touching.”
Not long after United Flight 93 took off, terrorists took control of the plane. One claimed to have a bomb strapped to his chest, and passengers were forced to the back of the plane and told to be quiet.
Passenger and crew members made phone calls through air phones and, after learning about the jets that had been hijacked and flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, decided to overtake the four hijackers — the famous words “Let’s roll!” came from passenger Todd Beamer at the end of an emergency phone call.
The plane’s cockpit voice recorder captured the fighting, shouting and screaming. After a struggle for nearly six minutes, the plane crashed into the ground at 563 mph, and its 7,000 gallons of jet fuel exploded on impact.
It is thought the terrorists intended to fly the jet into the nation’s Capitol, where Congress was in session.
‘VOICES IN PERPETUITY’
The Wall of Names, which includes a marble tablet for each of the passengers and crew members on United Flight 93, sits in front of a fenced-off portion of the park. Beyond the fence is the spot where the Boeing 757-222 came to rest and is to stay undisturbed and sacred since human remains are still there, memorial workers said.
The Wall of Names and memorial plaza, dedicated on Sept. 10, 2011, include photos and stories of the passengers and crew. There also is a message center where visitors can write notes to the families of the victims.
A short hike up the hill from memorial plaza is the visitor center, which displays items from the crash and details how it coincided with the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. It also includes recorded messages from those on the jet to loved ones and emergency personnel.
The spirit shown by the crew and passengers inspired the memorial’s newest addition called the Tower of Voices. It will feature 40 large wind chimes, each with a unique tone for each of the “voices in perpetuity ringing out to make a difference,” Clark said.
A “soundbreaking” — the chimes will be sounded and earth turned for the tower to be built — is scheduled for today as part of the remembrance events in observance of 9/11.
“There are stories I hear ... that stop you right in your tracks,” he said. “Some of the memories people have shared with me from that day are things I will forever cherish, and the same thing goes for countless others. And I know of plenty of others feel the same way.”
‘STILL VERY RAW’
Clark, who said the Flight 93 National Memorial is on pace in 2017 to surpass the 400,000 visitors it had in 2016, said everyone who comes to the site “is welcomed like they’re a guest at their own house.”
The emotional ties to the event make that necessary, he said.
Clark, who also in charge of the Johnstown Flood National Memorial that commemorates the May 31, 1889, flood that wiped out the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and killed more than 2,200 people.
“(Johnstown) happened so long ago, and it was tragic,” Clark said. “But this happened in 2001, so it’s still very raw. We have to take into the account the emotional state of people, but at the same time, we want them to feel like they’re a part of it because, really, it’s something we all went through together.”