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Flighrt 93 park groundbreaking Saturday
Written by JENNIFER C. YATES,Associated Press Writer   
Friday, 06 November 2009 07:58

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. (AP) — Esther Heymann was overflowing with grief for her stepdaughter. Standing in a blustery snow, overlooking the empty field where Flight 93 had crashed a couple of years earlier, she couldn't stop crying.

The only other person there was a local man, sitting in his warm car. Every few minutes he'd come out, asking Heymann if she was OK; mostly, he just let her grieve. Alone.

Finally, the man approached her. His wife was making soup at home. She should come and have some, get warm, wait for the snow to stop.

She did, following a man she didn't know through streets that to him were his neighborhood.

To her, they were the roads leading to her loved one's cemetery plot.

When the earth and sky tragically collided in these rolling fields on Sept. 11, 2001, the people who live here and the relatives of the 40 passengers and crew killed were suddenly and inextricably brought together. That bond will be sealed further Saturday when ground is broken for a national park, a permanent memorial to the victims and a permanent reminder to the locals.

"The families of victims of Flight 93 and the community of Shanksville have really become one community," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who helped broker agreements between landowners and the government for the memorial land.

The community began immediately after the crash. Victims' family members were brought to a nearby ski resort and attended to by local Red Cross volunteers. School students held a candlelight vigil on the courthouse steps.

Neighbors comforted neighbors, too. Bob and Phyllis Musser, who live near the crash site just past a thick grove of trees, brought turkey sandwiches and coffee to the first responders. They would later volunteer to man the temporary memorial and talk to visitors.

Known as Flight 93 Ambassadors, the volunteers are locals who noticed people showing up at the crash site with no idea what they were looking at. More than 130,000 people visit every year.

Featuring a 93-foot tower containing 40 wind chimes, the $58 million memorial to be built on 2,200 acres here will guide visitors on a path to the crash site, known simply as the "sacred ground." It is set to open in 2011, the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

The Mussers volunteer weekly at the temporary memorial. Bob, 79, greets visitors and Phyllis, 75, shows photos of each victim and the path of the plane from her post inside a small, gray, wooden shed.

United Flight 93 had left Newark, N.J., that morning for San Francisco when four terrorists commandeered the cockpit. The hijackers turned the plane around and headed for Washington, D.C., before passengers fought back. The hijackers responded by crashing the plane into the field, just shy of a school.

The Mussers have gotten to know many of the Flight 93 families.

Many, they say, just want to come and sit on one of 40 benches at the site, each inscribed with a victim's name.

"It's too bad this had to happen, but if it had to happen — it had to happen someplace," said Bob Musser.

In August, the National Park Service reached agreements with eight landowners to purchase much of the land needed for the memorial, ending a slow and sometimes contentious acquisition process. Some landowners claimed the government had not made offers despite claims that negotiations were ongoing, while the government at one point said it would seize properties if deals couldn't be reached.

Aside from that, many locals have been involved with planning of the permanent memorial. Many are working on an oral history project to preserve what happened that day.

"I think that the people in this community opened their arms," said Mark Miller, who helped his cousin, a coroner, at the scene in the days and weeks after the crash.

Miller owns the Pine Grill in Somerset, the largest town near the crash site. Victims' relatives often stay at Somerset hotels, and Miller has befriended many who regularly eat at his restaurant. Some are even on his yearly Christmas card list now.

"I think this was a unique tragedy that fell on us but I'd like to think that we're a friendly community," Miller said.

Heymann often eats at Miller's restaurant when she visits from her home in Baltimore. She has fond stories to tell about the residents, yet she's hesitant to name names for fear of leaving anyone out.

Many locals have offered her home-cooked meals or a bed to sleep in when she visits. One of her friends is a woman who saw her crying at the crash site on another day and offered her support, telling Heymann her own story of losing her daughter in a car accident.

"To have anybody reach out to help hold you up is the best gift because you really don't even know how far down you are," said Heymann, whose 27-year-old stepdaughter, Honor Elizabeth Wainio, was on Flight 93.

Ken Nacke, of Baltimore, lost his brother, Louis J. Nacke, 42, of New Hope, Pa., in the attack.

"I think I go up there now to see my new family as much as paying respect to the 40," he said. "That town has helped me move on."

 

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