Northeast Times

Forever a somber journey

On this 10th an­niversary of the ter­ror at­tacks, the an­nu­al pil­grim­age to the Shanks­ville, Pa., crash site holds spe­cial mean­ing for the Broth­ers for Flight 93.

When the North­east Phil­adelphia-based Broth­ers for Flight 93 made their in­aug­ur­al mo­tor­cycle-borne pil­grim­age to Shanks­ville, Pa., in 2007, the 9/11 crash site looked al­most noth­ing like it does today.

Back then, little dis­tin­guished the re­mote, ex­pans­ive farm­land from the count­less oth­er sur­round­ing fields that char­ac­ter­ize much of Pennsylvania’s Laurel High­lands re­gion — ex­cept for the 10-foot-deep crater cre­ated by the jet­liner’s im­pact.

Al­most five years earli­er, mourn­ers had hast­ily erec­ted a tem­por­ary me­mori­al on a hill­side over­look­ing the site. It had a large fence where vis­it­ors pos­ted thou­sands of flags, notes, pho­tos and poems ded­ic­ated to the 33 pas­sen­gers and sev­en crew of United Air­lines Flight 93 who died there on Sept. 11, 2001. The me­mori­al also had benches where vis­it­ors would sit, med­it­ate and per­haps pray for the 40 vic­tims and her­oes.

But the benches are gone now, as is the gi­ant fence with its very per­son­al memen­tos. In their place is an even lar­ger “Wall of Names” and a vis­it­ors’ plaza that will be ded­ic­ated this week­end as the first phase of the site’s on­go­ing per­man­ent me­mori­al pro­ject.

•••

Or­gan­ized by Phil­adelphia Deputy Sher­iff and Bustleton res­id­ent John Hamilton, along with his wife Kim, broth­ers Mi­chael and Jim and many friends, the Broth­ers for Flight 93 made their fifth an­nu­al mo­tor­cycle ride to the crash site, as well as the Flight 93 Me­mori­al Chapel last week­end. About 150 people took part in the con­voy, which in­cluded about 80 mo­tor­cycles, plus sup­port vehicles and a po­lice es­cort.

Sadly, with Pres­id­ent Barack Obama, Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden and 10,000 or more vis­it­ors ex­pec­ted at the newly formed na­tion­al park this week­end, the broth­ers were not per­mit­ted an ad­vance, close-up peek at the Wall of Names.

Yet, they say, the true mean­ing of their 600-mile trip was not ne­ces­sar­ily in the des­tin­a­tion, but more so in the jour­ney.

“It’s just about com­ing out to the crash site, be­ing able to lay a wreath and say a pray­er,” Hamilton said. “I would like to have spent more time at the crash site. Be­fore, you used to have benches where you could sit and re­flect. Now, it’s in and out be­cause every­body is com­ing and go­ing.”

•••

Hamilton and sev­er­al of his col­leagues in law en­force­ment made their first “me­mori­al run” to the Flight 93 site in 2006. Upon their re­turn to Philly, they de­cided to form a non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion to raise money to be­ne­fit the per­man­ent me­mori­al pro­ject. The fol­low­ing year, they opened up the event to like-minded ci­vil­ians.

Be­sides the char­it­able as­pect of the event, it’s also their way of ex­er­cising and cel­eb­rat­ing the free­dom that came un­der at­tack from the 9/11 ter­ror­ists and that the crew and pas­sen­gers of Flight 93 hero­ic­ally de­fen­ded.

“I think that’s the ul­ti­mate free­dom that a per­son can ex­per­i­ence, rid­ing down the road on a mo­tor­cycle,” Hamilton said. “And the people who ride are the most hon­est people you’ll meet, good or bad. They’ll tell you like it is. They’re real people. There’s no façade. They are what they ap­pear to be.”

Each year, usu­ally a week be­fore the 9/11 an­niversary, par­ti­cipants gath­er at the Cur­ran-From­hold Cor­rec­tion­al Fa­cil­ity on State Road early on a Sat­urday morn­ing for a de­par­ture ce­re­mony.

Pris­ons Com­mis­sion­er Louis Giorla hos­ted this year’s event, which in­cluded a live per­form­ance of the na­tion­al an­them, the read­ing of the names of all 40 vic­tims of Flight 93 and the re­lease of 40 white bal­loons in­to the sky.

Mem­bers of the Ed­ding­ton Fire Com­pany of Ben­s­alem and Amer­ic­an Fire Com­pany of Bris­tol used their lad­der trucks to sus­pend an Amer­ic­an flag high over the park­ing-lot exit.

The Ben­s­alem Town­ship Po­lice De­part­ment’s Mo­tor Patrol es­cor­ted the riders to the Pennsylvania Turn­pike. Phil­adelphia Po­lice Of­ficer Joe Good­win and the Broth­ers’ own “road cap­tains” en­sured the safety of the con­voy on the 250-mile high­way jaunt to Somer­set, along with the rus­tic side trip to the ac­tu­al crash site.

For the fifth year in a row, Chief Sig­mund “Sug­ar” Fine of the Rhawn­hurst-Bustleton Am­bu­lance provided emer­gency med­ic­al backup for the dur­a­tion. He is one of many faces that show up every year.

“Each time we come, everything’s a little bit dif­fer­ent,” said North­east res­id­ent Jim Campenello. “I like this ride. I’ll be do­ing this every year.”

“I was there last year and you’re just in awe,” said Hat­boro’s Steve Beck­er, whose wife Gina and beagle Shane rode in a sup­port car this year.

Bill and Nancy White, along with Cindy Stefano, were mak­ing their third vis­it to the site.

“It’s the memor­ies, the ded­ic­a­tion, the trib­utes,” Bill White said. “Now that they’re fix­ing it up nicely, it’s dif­fer­ent every time we go see it.”

•••

More than a na­tion­al tragedy, the Flight 93 crash was also a per­son­al one for at least two of the riders in last week’s con­voy. West Chester’s Mike Tru­itt was a busi­ness col­league and friend of Todd Beam­er, the pas­sen­ger cred­ited with the now-fam­ous ral­ly­ing call, “Let’s roll!”

Bill Ship­ley of Ben­s­alem was a co-work­er and friend of Lou Nacke, a New Hope res­id­ent who also per­ished in the crash.

“There’s a lot of sen­ti­ment­al stuff to me be­cause I used to work with one of the fel­las who went down in the plane,” said Ship­ley, whose wife Michelle also made the me­mori­al ride this year.

After vis­it­ing the crash site, the riders gathered back at an area motel for a bar­be­cue. Down­ing­town-based cater­ers John and Susan Lowe sup­ply much of the meal. Both are avid mo­tor­cyc­lists, too.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, many riders re­turned to the Shanks­ville area to vis­it the Flight 93 Me­mori­al Chapel. The chapel is a cen­tury-old coun­try church re­fur­bished to pay trib­ute to the 40 crash vic­tims. The Rev. Al­phonse Mas­cherino is founder and dir­ect­or.

“We star­ted in Novem­ber 2001 and were totally re­built by the first an­niversary, Septem­ber 11, 2002,” Mas­cherino said. “When we star­ted the chapel, there wer­en’t so many me­mori­als go­ing on. There wer­en’t so many pro­grams. … Since then, of course, there are many me­mori­als and pro­grams.”

Sur­roun­ded by corn­fields and hills, the tiny chapel has an 8-foot marble monu­ment to the Flight 93 crew and pas­sen­gers. An in­door shrine shows their pho­tos and bio­graph­ies.

“(It’s a) simple struc­ture, a coun­try chapel, but in­side is the glory of God,” Mas­cherino said. “When (vis­it­ors) open that front door, they see the whole panoply, the vista of the in­teri­or. And for many, it takes their breath away.” ••

For in­form­a­tion about Broth­ers for Flight 93, vis­it www.broth­ersfor­flight93.com

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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